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Full text of "The king of Alsander"

THE KING OF ALSANDER 



8r THE SAME AUTHOR 

THE GOLDEN JOURNEY 
TO SAMARKAND. 



THE KING 
OF ALSANDER 



BY 

JAMES ELROY FLECKER 



LONDON: GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN LTD. 
RUSKIN HOUSE 40 MUSEUM STREET, W.C. 




First Published in 1914 
New Edition . . 1915 



(All rights reserved) 



DEDICATION 

To 
J. N. MAVROGORDATO 

This Romance, 

of which he never despaired in the Rough 
Is dedicated in the Ripe 



CONTENTS 

Page 

Preface xi 

Chapter I. Blaindon 1 

Chapter II. Alsander 26 

Chapter III. En Pension in Alsander 44 

Chapter IV. Introducing a good beggar and 

a bad King 59 

Chapter V. Of the knighting of Norman 

Price 81 

Chapter VI. Concerning Isis and Aphro- 
dite: with a digression on the shocking 
treatment the Tatter's followers receive 
from the hands of English novelists 98 

Chapter VII. The Society for the Advance- 
ment of Alsander 115 
Chapter VIII. How Norman failed to pass 
a qualifying examination for the post 
of King of Alsander, and was whipped: 
together with a digression on the ex- 
cellence of whipping 124 
Chapter IX. The Consul 137 
Chapter X. Contains the President's tale 
and a debate on the advantages of 
murder 151 
Chapter XI. A Visit to Vorza 171 
Chapter XII. In which the Beetles crawl 186 
Chapter XIII. Re-Coronation 203 



* CONTENTS 

Chapter XIV. Princess lanthe 210 

Chapter XV. Peronella and the Priest 233 
Chapter XVI. The Counter Conspiracy: an 

episode in the style of the worst writers 249 
Chapter XVII. Battle 262 

Chapter XVIII. The Poet visits Blaindon 
once more, and takes John Gaffekin to 
the seashore, where a miracle occurs 290 




PREFACE 

Here is a tale all romance a tale such as only 
a Poet can write for you, O appreciative and 
generous Public a tale of madmen, kings, 
scholars, grocers, consuls, and Jews: a tale ivith 
two heroines, both of an extreme and indescribable 
beauty: a tale of the South and of sunshine, 
wherein will be found disguises, mysteries, con- 
spiracies, fights, at least one good whipping, and 
plenty of blood and love and absurdity: a very 
old sort of tale: a tale as joyously improbable as 
life itself. 

But if I know you aright, appreciative and 
generous Public, you look for more than this in 
these tragic days of social unrest, and you will 
be most dissatisfied with my efforts to please you. 
For you a king is a shadow, a madman a person 
to bz shut up, a scholar a fool, a grocer a trades- 
man, a consul an inferior grade of diplomatic 
officer, and a Jew a Jew. You will demand to 
know what panacea is preached in this novel as 
a sovran remedy for the dismal state of affairs in 
England. With what hope do I delude the groan- 
ing poor: with what sarcasm insult the insulting 
rich? What is the meaning of my apparent 
joyousness ? What has grim iron-banging Eng- 
land to do with sunshine, dancing, adventure and, 
abwe all, with Poets ? 



rii PREFACE 

In support of my reputation let me hasten to 
observe that in my efforts to please a generous and 
appreciative Public I have not failed to insert 
several passages of a high moral tone. Grave 
matters of ethics are frequently discussed in the 
course of my story, and the earnest inquirer may 
learn much from this book concerning the aim, 
purpose and origin of his existence. To Govern- 
ment and its problems I have given particular 
attention, and the observant reader may draw 
from these subtle pages a complete theory of the 
Fallacy of the Picturesque. Only I implore the 
public to forgive the Poet his proverbial licence, 
to remember that truth is still truth, though clad 
in harlequin raiment, and thought still thought, 
though hinted and not explained. 

Farewell, then, my King of Alsander. Eide 
out into the world and conquer. Behind you a 
merry and a mocking phantom my youth ridei 
out for ever/ 

Beyrouth, 
Syria, 1913. 



THE 
KING OF ALSANDER 



CHAPTER I 
BLAINDON 

Would that I had a little cot 

Beside a little hill, 
In some romantic English spot 
Where summer's not so very hot 

And winter not too chill. 

J. Williams 

THE writer of these simple lines, now un- 
happily dead, was a man of the soil, whose 
sweet native note had never been troubled 
by the sinister depravities, the heartless 
affectations of urban existence; and I believe 
myself that his pathetic and modest ideal 
could have been actually realized had he 
inhabited, as perhaps he did, the peaceful 
village of Blaindon. This secluded hamlet lies 
some ten miles from the sea, in an undu- 
lating, but not terrible, country a land of 
woodland and meadow, of buttercup and 
daisy, of tiny streams and verdant dells. 
At evening the scene is more tranquil than 
ever, and the old church spire, standing sen- 
tinel above the cold ploughlands, presents a 
curiously sad appearance, tinged as it is with 

B 



2 THE KING OF ALS ANDER 

the melancholy of years. However at the time 
when this story opens it was not evening, but 
afternoon, and a very hot one. The horse in 
his freedom, like the pig in his confinement, 
lolled upon the ground, and the thatches 
rustled with the melodies of sleep. 

Yes, let us look beneath those thatches 
and consider the village yokel for a moment, 
as with mouth agape and heavy eyelids he 
takes his meed of repose: 

Nee partem solido demere de die 
Spernit; mine viridi membra sub arbuto 
Stratus; nunc ad aquae lene caput sacrae. 

But if, here in England, he has no arbute tree, 
or sacred fountain, whereby to stretch his 
large, unwieldy limbs, there awaits him, never- 
theless, the fireside in winter, the straw of the 
stable loft for hotter days. Ensconced beneath 
such lowly roofs as those of little Blaindon, 
many a hundred sons of toil have been born, 
been married and been finally dead, after a lif e 
spent in working nobly for an ignoble pit- 
tance, far away from the wearisome strife 
of new ideas and endeavours, and all the 
rumbling of the world's chariot wheels. 

I have carefully examined the records in 
the parish church, thinking that they might 
interest all those who still have faith in the 
sterling qualities and bulldog tenacity of our 
British yeoman class. I discovered the inter- 



BLAINDON 3 

esting fact that only a fifth of the population 
die before the age of sixty-five; and that the 
same families seem to have lived here in a 
state of ceaseless intermarriage for century 
after century. The Weolkeftings of Saxon days, 
the Weilcans of the Normans, who are they 
but the honest Wilkinses round the corner? 
No great calamities have occurred at Blaindon 
except an occasional plague; no stirring battles 
have there been fought. The place seems to 
have been forgotten or overlooked during the 
Civil Wars. (However, an inhabitant of the 
town fought at Balaclava, but not in the 
Heavy Brigade.) Of the prevailing insanity, 
I need say nothing; this is the inheritance of 
all rustic communities. That the people of 
Blaindon are happy and appreciate their 
charming home they have proved in the 
clearest possible way. They have never left it. 
Would that he who looks over the church- 
yard wall down at the tidy rows of one-room 
cottages, whose gardens blaze with nasturtia 
and red daisies, could say that no jarring 
note, no trace of a restless individuality, 
marred the enchanting scene. But, alas ! every 
traveller is bound to remark a peculiarly ugly 
two-storied erection, whose rectangular bricks 
render it at once an eyesore and a solecism. 
This building used to be called by the inhabi- 
tants Price's bongmash: but the name on its 
sign was Bon Marche (French for Good 

B2 



4 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

Market). Mr Price's business was at the time 
this story opens the most flourishing concern 
in Blaindon. It was carried on chiefly by the 
indomitable energy of the younger Price; his 
father now slept most of the day, not so much 
on account of his advancing years as because 
he was very tired and a heavy eater. He 
could trust his son completely. Young Norman 
Price was one of the most envied personages 
in Blaindon. He was only nineteen; a hand- 
some and strong young man, and the face he 
showed a customer wore no servile frock- 
coated smirk, but a laugh of real pleasure at 
being able to supply the needs of the com- 
munity. Nearly everything was on sale in his 
shop all groceries, also cloth, garden seeds, 
papers, books (the least flourishing part of 
the trade), and tobacco. Yet his store did not 
look at all like other village stores where 
everything is bought in dirty pennyworths. It 
was well arranged, and the goods were dis- 
played to good account, more after the tradi- 
tion, I fear, of American vulgarity than of 
British honesty. Worse still, Price had actually 
taken upon himself to corrupt the adorable 
simplicity of the villagers and to turn their 
thoughts to the enervating fashions of great 
cities. If a young villager came in who liked to 
be thought rather a nut and who fancied him- 
self in a new waistcoat, the young grocer 
would [give him a little elegant and expensive 



BLAINDON 5 

tobacco to try, explain that he smoked it 
himself, and that one smoked less of it than 
of the commoner sorts, so it came no dearer 
after all. He utterly refused to sell cigarettes 
at ten for a penny, or assorted sweets at three 
half-pence the quarter. It soon became a mark 
of distinction to be a customer at the Bon 
Marche, and the firm got a reputation for 
selling " sound articles and no trash." 

I have not mentioned, however, the object 
that would probably most astonish a gentle- 
man of culture on entering the shop. On the 
wall hung a large and fine reproduction of 
Holbein's portrait of Georg Gisze. The young 
merchant, robed in delicate silk and velvet, 
and surrounded by keys, quadrants, scissors, 
maps, and ledgers, was obviously meant to 
be the tutelary deity of the house; indeed, as 
a set-off to the flowers that stand upon the 
painted table, Norman had placed a large bowl 
of carnations on his counter. 

The picture had been a present from his 
friend, John Gaffekin. If young Price appears 
in this story so strangely different from his 
father and from the other villagers of Blain- 
don, and indeed from all grocers whatsoever, 
we need not accept the explanation of some, 
that his father was " a deeper man than you'd 
think " or the assertion of others that he " got 
it from his mother," a lady of whom he had 
never seen so much as a photograph. The lad's 



6 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

singularity was much more likely due to this 
curious and close intimacy with a gentleman: 
and I hope that those who read this history 
will not close the book without a sigh of re- 
monstrance against all those who insist on 
giving the lower classes thoughts above their 
station. John Gaffekin lived with his widowed 
mother in thq Elizabethan Blaindon Hall, a 
typical old country house standing just out- 
side the village on a plot of park. The old lady 
was infirm, and in order that he might attend 
to his mother, and also avoid drawing on a by 
no means unlimited income, John had never 
gone to school. He had taken some lessons 
from the Vicar, who had been " a fine classic 
in his day," and as he naturally loved books 
and was of a quiet disposition he became so 
proficient that the Reverend George Apple 
warmly urged him to try for a scholarship at 
Oxford. For a long time he had refused even 
to attempt this feat. He declared that he 
could not leave his mother. He feared he 
could not win the scholarship. But the old 
lady joined her importunities to those of the 
Vicar. " They had not enough money to go on 
for ever," she maintained, " and if John had 
a degree he would always be able to turn his 
hand to something at a pinch, and earn his 
daily bread." Very much at a pinch, had the 
dear old lady but known it ! 

" I can easily get some one to look after 



BLAINDON 7 

me," said the old lady, " and it is very wrong 
of me not to have sent you away before. You 
are getting buried in this stupid place, and too 
dreamy altogether, with no one here but that 
grocer friend of yours to talk to." 

" I wish Norman could come with me to 
Oxford," said John. " It's wrong of me to 
leave him." 

" My dear son, I can't have you consorting 
with that sort of person all your life." 

" I do hate that subject," protested John, 

"My dear boy, you'll find the wisdom of 
my words when you've seen a little more of 
the world," said Mrs Gaffekin. 

" Besides," interposed the Vicar, tactfully, 
" College terms only account for half the year. 
We shall see plenty of you down here." 

So John got his scholarship and went to 
Oxford, and Norman found himself rather 
lonely. One day, three years ago, John had 
begun to talk to him when he came into 
Blaindon to buy tobacco, and since then they 
had been continuously together, walking, 
fishing and shooting all over the place, and 
conversing on high and learned topics. That 
is why Norman was an educated man after a 
certain curious fashion. He was, however, no 
mere counterpart of his friend. Left to him- 
self, Norman had fire and intelligence enough 
to make his mark. But the sudden wide 
prospect opened up by all that golden world 



8 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

all those enchanted gardens that lie hid 
between pasteboard covers had dazzled his 
eyes and made him a most exceptional per- 
son. He had plunged into everything, learnt 
Latin and French, attempted Greek. There 
were very few books that he read carefully; 
hardly one would he read twice. " There 
are so many more to read," he used to say. 
No one could be less of a scholar, and the fine 
points of characterization, the delicate shades 
of metre and language, lay beyond his sphere. 
But he loved all the books that are not 
generally read; he could feel that such books 
were peculiarly his own property or his own 
discovery, and a habit of always reading books 
that no one else has read is not a bad guide to 
literature. All the works that glow with dark 
frenzy, or with diabolical Rembrandt fires, 
whose authors died nameless deaths or were 
burnt for magic, all the fantastic tales about 
new countries on the other side of mountains, 
or happy islands in limitless seas, all stories 
of the moon or stars were his especial delight 
and continual joy. For he loved the Monk of 
Monk Lewis, and this is a rare book to find, 
and Vathek, and William Jordan, Junior, 
greatest of unread modern books; and he 
sang to himself the Gods of Pegana and 
dreamed over its ethereal pictures, and he 
loved the new Irish tales. And he adored that 
mysterious wonder-story of the Golden Ass, 



BLAINDON 9 

and its glittering precious style; and he read 
Richepin's tales of the Roman decadence. 
And he never wearied of James Thompson 
(not of the " Seasons "), or of Baudelaire, or 
of the great travel poems of the world from 
the Odyssey to Waring. 

And here, again, I must point the moral. 
The egregious bad taste of this young man 
was almost certainly the outcome of his low 
antecedents. Stale romanticism is embedded 
in the poorer classes. He liked his literature 
garish and vivid, and with his insistent 
passion for all the decadent stuff that used to 
be in favour ten or twelve years ago, he could 
never appreciate that really noble modern 
literature, much of it dramatic, which tackles 
so fearlessly and with such psychological 
insight the problems of our industrial age. 
In fact, he used to say that it might be 
damned good, but it was damned boring. 
Such is the obtuseness of the Philistine. He 
was, moreover, no critic, as you may well 
opine; he had not the fine taste of his friend, 
but he fell the more readily under the spell 
and domination of strange books; he was a 
dreamer, and entertained ideas of his own, 
which he would not have dared impart. Yet 
this dreamer was a man of business, and 
employed all the resources of a crude but 
powerful imagination in the disposal of his 
wares. How, then, could he help feeling a 



10 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

little weary of Blaindon, especially when 
John was away at Oxford ? And on this after- 
noon, on which I have promised that my 
story should begin, he was sitting rather dis- 
consolate in his shop, drowning care in the 
delights of Conrad's Youth. 

He had hardly been interrupted the whole 
day, except for lunch. The sexton had been 
in for some twine, and the Vicar's daughter 
for some pink wool " to match the merino 
mother bought yesterday." She was a pretty 
girl, and Price almost aspired to marry her. 
Had he only known it, the poverty-stricken 
Mr Apple would have been only too glad, and 
I do not think the young lady was at all 
averse to Norman, whose beauty of person 
and brilliance of mind made one forget his 
unfortunate connexion with trade. 

At about half-past three he shut the book 
with a bang, heaved a disconsolate sigh to think 
that the glorious tales were over, and stretched 
himself. Then he slid off the counter and looked 
down the high road to see if anything stirred 
thereon. Straight, broad, white, glaring, over 
the sleeping downs lay the deserted road that 
led to Blaindon from the unseen Ocean, fit 
for the trampling of armies and the shouting 
of men, a road for caravans and caravans of 
merchandise to traverse with bells a- jangle 
while wagoners told the tales of wagoners 
high perched on their creaking wains; yet a 



BLAINDON 11 

road for modern life, ready for tramways to 
glide along its hedges, and motor-cars to spin 
down its smooth and cambered way; yet 
perhaps chiefly an ancient road, down which 
some herald would speed, his gold coat laced 
with dust, his knees tight gripping his steam- 
ing horse, with a message of war, disaster, or 
relief. And down this mighty road came no 
wagon, nor army, nor motor, nor herald: no 
one save in the far distance a solitary walker, 
small and lonely in the vast sunshine. Price 
lazily watched the approaching figure. It 
seemed to be that of an old man, but if so this 
jold man was walking faster than any other 
[old man in the world. At all events, Price 
was already sure that he was no inhabitant 
of Blaindon, and he therefore came out and 
stood at his door to look at him. 

It was indeed a tall, straight and singular 
old man who came up some twenty minutes 
later and halted opposite the Bon Marche, 
resting on his stick. His long hair and beard 
were of an almost dramatic whiteness, like 
those of a Father Christmas in sugar. What 
was seen of his face seemed smooth, and he 
had surprisingly young, blue eyes. Afterwards, 
one noticed his long archaic lips and the 
beauty of his hands. His clothes, subordinate 
as all clothes should be to the face, were yet 
curious and distinctive. He wore a mauve 
silk scarf, a sort of Norfolk jacket, a cricket- 



12 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

ing shirt, grey flannel trousers, and brown 
boots with pointed toes. No collar, and no hat. 
His stick was a stout partridge cane with a 
silver nameplate. The old man stood opposite 
Price and looked at him with fixed attention 
for at least half a minute. 

" Have you got any Navy Cut, sir ? " said 
the old man. 

" Mild or medium ? " said Norman, beating 
a retreat into the shop to let the stranger 
enter and to look for the tobacco. 

" Strong, of course," bellowed the old man. 
"Thank you." 

' What a voice he has ! " thought the grocer. 
The new customer sat down on a chair and 
threaded out the tobacco into an enormous 
briar, looking curiously about him. Suddenly 
he started. 

" You don't mean to say that you keep 
Menodoron Mixture here!' ! said he. "I 
haven't been able to get any in this damned 
county at all." 

He tapped the Navy Cut out of his pipe, 
swept it into his pouch, and seized hold of 
the Menodoron tin. As he did so his eye lit 
upon the Holbein. He gave a second start, 
more violent than the first, a quick, vio- 
lent spasm of his entire body, which made his 
snowy beard flap like the handle of a water 
pump. 

" Hullo ! Where did you get that from ? r 



BLAINDON 13 

" Georg Gisze ? He's a present from a friend 
of mine." 

" And all those books and dictionaries, are 
they for sale ? Have you a Grammar School in 
this notable town ? ' ! 

c ' No, sir. I read them when business is slack. ' ' 

" Then what are you doing here ? " said the 
old man, earnestly. " I can see you are not a 
gentleman: you look too much like a god. 
Tell me, what are you doing, with a library 
like that, here in a grocer's shop, in this hor- 
rible little village ? ' ! 

" Now, come, sir," said Norman, " it's a 
picturesque old place, situated in charming 
country." 

" Sir," replied the stranger, " I am a 
travelled man; I am perhaps a trifle over- 
proud of my great journeys. I have seen all 
the Great Effects. I have clambered among 
fearful crags to see the Euphrates, that old 
river, burst through the Gate of Taurus. I 
have seen the Alps from the Finsteraarhorn 
below me, Niagara from the footpath above 
me, night in the city, day in the desert, dawn 
on the sea. I have seen the Little Effects: Nor- 
mandy, Tasmania, the English Lakes. But 
never on train, steamer, bicycle, tram, motor, 
balloon, camel, horse, mule, or foot, have I 
found such an unutterably dull place as 
Blaindon. Forgive this rhetoric, purveyor of 
sweetmeats, but be assured of its truth." 



14 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" In all places, sir, there is a sky, a sun, and 
stars." 

" Where," pursued the stranger, " did you 
learn to talk with that pure accent, vendor of 
spices; or to frame such pleasant words? 
What are you doing in this fantastic shop ? 9! 

" Earning my living, sir. Nor is there any 
mystery about my case. I have a friend, now 
at Oxford, who gave me books to read and 
taught me Latin." 

" Are you contented ? Perfectly happy in 
your sunlight and starlight ? Supremely satis- 
fied with Catullus on the counter ? " 

" As a rule, yes. But my friend is away at 
present; there is no one to talk to, and these 
wonderful stories " (he pointed to the book 
lying face downward on the counter) " stir 
the soul to travel." 

" Well, why not travel, Lord of Things in 
Tins ? Blaindon's no good for a man like you, 
great enough to make castles out of his biscuit 
tins, and fortifications out of washing soap." 
And he pointed to Norman's window, which 
was dressed that day with certain architec- 
tural effects. 

" I have been content with my dreams for 
a long time," said Norman, with a little vulgar 
pride in his poetic and pathetic phraseology. 
" 1 am fond of dreams they are my best 
friends." 

" If you imagine I am going to be impressed 



BLAINDON 15 

by that sort of Watts-Dunton talk you are 
wrong; I'm going, " said the old man, as he 
rose up from his chair. 

" Sir ! " cried Norman; " you haven't paid 
for the tobacco." 

The old man sat down with a thump. 

" I am a poet," he said, with deprecatory 
grandeur. " And you aren't a cultured snob 
after all, but something of a man. Have you 
travelled at all, now ? Tell me." 

Oh, yes, I go round the county a bit. On 
market days I usually go over to Iffcombe 
in the Marsh; it's quite lively there." 

By the Queen of the Moon and the Sea 
whom I worship and by the memory of your 
mother whom I swear you have never known, 
how dare you stand opposite me, a young man 
with the face of a god, and blither about 
jlffcombe in the Marsh ! Travel, man, over the 
water, down south among the palms ! You've 
got money ? " 

"Not I!" 
A little, surely! 51 

Only about a hundred pounds of my own, 
jo far." 

" Only a hundred pounds ! Then go away 
it before your friend borrows it off you 
x> pay his Oxford bills. No, don't get wrath- 
'ul; I'm an Oxford man myself and under- 
Istaiid that curious world. A hundred pounds ! 
Why, I've never had a hundred pounds all at 



16 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

one time for many a year. How you can keep 
a hundred pounds in your pocket or in the 
bank, I do not know, when five pounds will 
take you to the Alps, seven to Italy, twelve 
to the Gulf of Corinth, thirty to Damascus,* 
and fifty to Yokohama. You should clear 
out of this rat-hole, young man, and that 
immediately. Why not to-night ? as thunder- 
ing Salvationists cry, desiring to save the soul. 
That engagement, this duty, the other pro- 
mise, este, ese, aquel, as the Spaniards have it, 
leave it all and save your life, this is the Poet's 
appeal, the Muse's command. You'll find a 
kingdom somewhere, or a war, or an adven- 
ture. I am a prophet, and the worshipper of a 
Holy Lady. Now, good-bye." 

He laid his hands on the boy's shoulders, 
and looked at him dramatically. Then he 
turned round, seized the tin of Menodoron and 
strode away. 

" Two and sixpence," said Norman, calling 
him back. 

" Two and elevenpence, counting the Navy 
Cut," said the poet, handing over the exact 
sum. " You will certainly succeed, Mr Norman 

* I should subjoin a word to prevent any enthusiastic 
reader from taking the words of the old poet too seriously 
and wasting thirty pounds in going to Damascus. It 
is a very filthy town with electric trams and no drains. 

The fares mentioned by the poet are of course third- 
class. 



I 



BLAINDON 17 

Price. So I will give you a good tip," he added 

in a stage whisper. " Go straight to Alsander." 

" Where's that ? " said Norman, but the 

eccentric customer, without another word, 

strode out of the shop, leaving him bewildered. 

There was nothing to do in the shop; he tried 

to re-arrange some shelves, but felt it was not 

worth the trouble. He opened the Golden Ass 

and found he could not progress without 

looking up many exotic words, and the 

dictionary was too heavy. Finally he sat down 

on his counter, gazing at the sunswept fields 

and lengthening shadows of the hedges. The 

vast mournful light of the late afternoon 

penetrated his spirit, and he felt, not for the 

[first time, that unutterable sadness, that 

[vague and restless longing for the Unknown 

i and Impossible that it is the privilege of young 

imen to feel. For many a youth this curious 

i sense of unity with the earth is but a first 

[awakening of amorous desire, and to such a 

lone Venus comes quickly, with all her gentle 

litrain. But there are a few who understand 

their souls, or who have souls to understand, 

i whose daydreams are fashioned of other 

: delights and different imaginings. 

So Norman began dreaming, at first as 
[schoolboys dream of adventure, plot, swords- 
Imanship, hidden treasures, dense jungles, 
[heroic bravery, desperate efficiency and lost 
rincesses. Then a poet's dream of hot suns, 



p 



18 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

and open plains, and vast masses of swaying 
colour. Then he bethought himself of a multi- 
tude of pleasant practical schemes. John and 
he had often talked of a bicycling tour in 
Normandy. That would be inexpensive, but 
now it seemed so tame an affair. What of this 
delicately-named Alsander the Poet talked 
of ? It sounded remote enough. To go some- 
where where no one else had ever been would 
be better than reading books no one else had 
ever read. And one should go at an hour's 
notice, without making any plans. What a 
curiously-inspired man this old poet or artist 
was! Quite mad, no doubt, with his Holy 
Lady. And what did he mean by mentioning 
Norman's mother? Norman had no gods; he 
feared Death and loved Life. Well, since Life 
is short, and since one is sure of nothing, shall 
one not be bold ? To-night ! 

The old man's words thrilled him. If, as the 
poet had suggested, a trumpet-voiced vul- 
garian in black can save a drinker from dirt 
and disease in a quarter of an hour, cannot a 
radiant poet save a dreamer from stagnation 
in ten minutes ? Norman began to think hard, 
and his pulses were stirring for action, when 
the bell rang behind the shop. It was time for 
meat-tea. 

Norman, with no feeling of any bathos, 
entered the parlour with the full intention ol 
eating a hearty meal. He sat down opposite 



BLAINDON 19 

old William Price and began to cut himself 
enormous slices of bread. Meanwhile he 
looked at his father, and studied the old man's 
appearance carefully and cynically for the 
first time in his life. We often take some of our 
|near relations for granted (like the nursery 
cuckoo clock or the cabbage-roses on the 
porch), and we never become acutely con- 
scious of their existence or individuality 
unless they die, disappear, or make them- 
selves offensive. Norman dispassionately scru- 
tinized his father's stumpy red beard, curious 
veiled eyes, and fireless, thin face, remembered 
his equanimity and his shrewdness, and won- 
dered with boyish shallowness and conceit 
lor he knew less about his father than about 
(the man in the moon what on earth he had 
in common with such a man outside human 
inature and the grocery business. The only 
(recent change that Norman could observe in 
jhis parent was that he had certainly become 
'atter and more foolish since he had left his 
son to do all the grocery work. The lad was 
sure that the one salvation for his father would 
be to take the business on again, and his idea 
3f effecting a dramatic departure for a time, 

least grew almost a resolve. 

Usually Norman never told his father any- 
thing that could possibly puzzle or worry the 
3xeellent old gentleman, and had maintained 
he rule that the elder generation is the last 

c2 



20 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

place where the new should expect sym- 
pathy. However, for want of something to talk 
about, Norman observed that a most peculiar 
person, describing himself as a poet, had been 
in the shop and had tried to persuade him to 
travel. 

" To travel, eh ? " said WiUiam Price. 
" What in ? " 

" Oh, he meant abroad." 

" I've n'er bin abroa'," said the honest old 
fellow, stifling his words in large mouthf uls of 
ham. " But I bin 'sfuras Wales." 

" I'm longing to go," said Norman, " and I 
will go, too." 

" Ah, yes," said the old man, paying no 
serious attention, as he leaned back in his 
wooden armchair. " I've often wanted to see 
it myself. Used to live down by the sea in Kent, 
and I was always wunnering what was the 
other side, and thinking I saw France, but it 
was only the clouds. I'm glad I never went 
there though; they say it's a very irreligious 
country." 

Norman finished his meal in silence and 
folded up his napkin. 

" Good night, father," he said, as he g< 
up from his chair, leaving the old man sti 
hard at work. " I expect you'll want to get 1 
sleep now, it's been a tiring day." 

" Indeed it has," said William Pric 
" Indeed it has." 



BLAINDON 21 

" I'm going out for a stroll," said Norman, 
at the door. 

" Oh, we understand," gurgled Mr William 
Price after him, with a wink. " Young rip ! " 
he added complacently as he continued his 
meal. 

But when, his meal finished, he began to 
doze in the armchair by the fire, even his 
confident son might have been startled to see 
him open his wide dark eyes, unfilmed, and 
! smile as though he saw Paradise dawn upon 
the ceiling. 

Norman walked up and down the village 
street, as though he hoped that the moon, 
Whose silver bow hung listlessly above, would 
send some barbed messenger of watery fire 
to confirm him in a resolution. Whether 
indeed the celestial lady did touch him some- 
bow, or whether his vanity and naughty desire 
to startle the villagers was not more powerful, 
[ cannot say; but in a few minutes a strange 
^decided mood swept over him, and when 
si quarter of an hour later he swung into the 
Blaindon Arms it was as a man resolved to 
jay good-bye. 

For neither business nor inclination had 
ever permitted Norman to lose touch with 
iihese heroes of the soil, the Blaindon working 
olass. They were honest, strenuous, interesting 
fellows, a little too full perhaps of local colour. 
(Though they were a little jealous of him, 

i 



22 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

they were a kindly folk and bowed naturally 
to his superior wealth. Superior intellect they 
did not allow him to possess. For them he 
was a bright boy who'd got " notions." 

He greeted little Nancy at the bar as a 
habitu6 should, and asked for the time-table. 

" Surely ye aren't goin' anywhere this tame 
o' nate," murmured John Oggs. 

" Yes, I am," said Norman. " I'm just off 
abroad. And I've come to say good-bye." 

" What ! " said old Canthrop, a person who 
combined the functions of village patriarch 
and village imbecile, and was, in accordance 
with the universal custom of savage com- 
munities, almost worshipped in consequence. 
"What!" he repeated, making the mono- 
syllable rhyme with hat. " Aiy didn't know: 
no one tould me ! " 

" Well, you're the first to know as usual, 
Mr Canthrop. The old man doesn't know 

yet." 

' What ! " said old Canthrop, almost shriek- 
ing, " not tould yer feyther ? Not tould yer 
feyther that yer goin' away ? ' ! 

He rocked convulsively in his chair. 

" Isn't that rather sudden of you, Mr 
Price?" said pleasant Nancy, simpering. 
She was a great friend of Norman's, and her 
voice was a little tremulous as she asked her 
question. 

Thomas Bodkin, the sexton, who passed for 



BLAINDON 23 

a man of the world, and was drinking airily 
at the bar, leaned over and whispered very 
audibly, " It's a scrape, Nancy . . . these young 
dogs . . . must let 'em sow their oats . . . eh, 
what ? ... We know." 

Mr Bodkin's jerky mouthfuls passed in the 
inn for nimble elocution, his metaphors for the 
delicious slang of an old and experienced 
rake. 

" Gawd! " ejaculated John Oggs, who was 
sitting behind him, " ye have it there, man, 
ye have it there ! " 

6 c What nonsense!" said Norman. "You 
don't imagine I should run away from 
trouble, do you? Or that I should be likely 
to get into trouble ? Or that if I did I should 
be such a fool as to tell you anything about it ? " 

" Why did you, then ? " said Thomas Bodkin. 
A roar of laughter greeted this vivacious sally. 

Price looked round with rather priggish dis- 
gust. It was more than he could stand, this 
asinine mockery. " I came to say good-bye," 
he said. 

" Till to-morrow, eh ? " said the sexton. 

" You will not see me to-morrow," said 
Xorman. 

" See now, Mr Price," pursued the sexton, 
"there are no more trains. None between 
five this evening and 10.30 to-morrow, except 
on markets when the 8.15 goes to Iff combe. 
You're mad." 



24 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

Another peal of laughter, during which 
Norman disappeared, a baffled Byron, punished 
by the native humour of honourable working 
men for trying to produce a cheap effect. 

But his resolution had received its final 
confirmation. He could not face the ridicule 
of the morrow. He hurried back at once to the 
shop, and there on the counter wrote a concise 
note to his father. He thought it unnecessary 
to condole or excuse. He knew how delightful 
it would be for the old man to have anything 
happen to him at all, how he would enjoy 
being the centre of sympathetic interest in 
the village, and how thoroughly good it would 
be for his moral character to get back to 
business. He then took the Post Office Savings 
Bank book from the safe. There were ninety 
pounds odd in it, entered in his name, the 
profits that had accrued during his two years' 
management of the shop. Perhaps it was not 
strictly his; his father had established the 
business, and provided the initial stock. But 
then his father had laid by enough to keep 
him even in food for the next ten years, and 
Norman had done the work. It is the young 
who want money; Norman had never been 
able to see the object of saving money with 
immense toil over against the day when one 
should become infirm, insane, or dead. He 
uttered a vigorous oath against the Post Office 
system, which means a day's delay in with- 



BLAINDON 25 

drawal, sent the book up to headquarters at 
once, asking that it should be sent him by 
return to the Central Post Office, Southamp- 
ton, posted it in the box opposite, and then 
considered what he ought to pack. He took a 
change of raiment, and then looked lovingly 
at the ponderous tomes on his shelves. Only 
the smallest could go with him. 

" After all," said Norman, " I have read all 
these once. New lands, new books, and I am 
not going away for what John would call a 
reading party." 

Finally he took no book with him save a 
little Elzevir Apuleius, and packed it with 
all his other effects on his bicycle carrier and 
in the saddle-bag. Just as he was mounting 
one more thought troubled him. Would he not 
be terribly lonely? If only John could come 
too! "No," he said, arguing to himself, "my 
life must not consist of John. If I'm lonely 
I shall have to discover for myself new com- 
panions in new countries." 

It was a splendid night. He set off down the 
High Street, on the main road to Southamp- 
ton in a state of perilous exultation. Smoothly 
and quickly the tyred wheels bore him on 
out to infinity. The door of the Blaindon Arms 
stood open, and as he rolled noiselessly by he 
could hear Canthrop summing up his view of 
the situation for the fiftieth time, 

" Bloody silly, I call it," said the old man, 
" bloody silly!" 



26 



CHAPTER II 
ALSANDER 

Know'st thou the land where bloom the lemon trees, 

And darkly gleam the golden oranges ? 

A gentle wind blows down from that blue sky . . . 

WITH a spear of golden light and gradual 
splendour Dawn rose on her triumphal car. 
In winter men rise up to welcome her advent: 
wives cast off sleep and light fires in her 
honour; the good citizens draw the curtains 
to gaze out upon her beauty, stretching their 
lazy limbs. In winter Dawn arises to the 
sound of chattering and bustle, the herald of 
man's work in town and field. But in summer 
only the grey mists and the light- winged birds 
listen to her as she rings the bells of day. 

Norman had seen new lands and cities, and 
had been wandering on foot for many weeks 
to south and east admiring all things, but 
never so satisfied with what he saw as to rest 
for a single day. At the first glimmer of light 
he leapt to his window, and whether Dawn 
rose broken upon the peaks or solemn on the 
plain, whether she wandered mysteriously 
down old winding streets, or set the city 
square clattering and clanging, it was early, 



ALSANDER 27 

ever early, that our heroic traveller left his 
mean abode to seek the unexpressed, un- 
known, ever-receding city of his heart's 
desire. 

One night as he was trudging along he met 
a tramp, whose face he could hardly make out 
beneath the stars, who, learning that he was 
bound to Alsander, talked to him in English 
passionately of the beauties of that country, 
recommended him to learn its language, and 
then disappeared into the gloom. This con- 
firmed the boy in his definite aim, and day 
after day he approached this certain goal, 
fired by the eloquence of the mysterious 
stranger. This night, being among the high 
mountains, he had found no inn; however, 
undaunted, he lay down on the roadside for 
an hour or two, then rose and strode on, pack 
on shoulder, through the shadows. Who could 
be tired of walking with the mountain wind 
ahead, the dim white road beneath, and the 
joy of watching for the dawn! "Ah!" he 
thought, " how I pity the six-legged at their 
desks ! What for them is the sunrise curtain to 
the drama of a day ? How indeed should they 
greet it, save with a cry of pain and a curse 
upon the light ? But I will wander on." 

Now had come that shining moment of 
Eternity when Aurora unravels the folds of 
her saffron robe across the sky and bares her 
wounded breast to the blue of morning. The 



28 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

boy swung round a corner of the highway, and 
suddenly beheld the valley far below. He saw 
quiet forests of tall golden trees and meadows 
so rich with gentian and wild pansy that even 
at that far height he could see them shine. To 
his left, at the edge of the plain, lay spear- 
sharp mountains, a little darker than the 
skies, whose distant hollows and tortuous 
cones ever hinted at the mystery of the next 
valley and the joy of things unseen. He saw 
the thin torrent which tumbled down in 
cascades behind the wall become a quiet and 
solemn river below leading to a curved strip 
of sea, of an intense unearthly colour, 
southern, fantastic, beyond all belief, and the 
sound of rushing waters seemed the only 
sound in the world. But most surprising of 
all, on a rocky mound between the mountains 
and the bay rose the white city of Alsander, 
with her legendary towers and red roofs all 
dreaming in the sunlight. In such deep slumber 
lay that perfect city, the boy held the very 
sight of it to be a dream. For there surely 
dwelt the good King and the bad King, the 
younger son and the three princesses, the 
dwarf, the giant and the gnome. Surely in 
those blue mountains lurked and lolled the 
devastating dragon who came down for his 
yearly toll of maiden flesh; surely in that 
blue sea swam all the shoal of nereids and 
dolphinous fishy beings whose song is dan- 



ALSANDER 29 

gerous to men. Thus appeared the city of 
Alsander to Norman as he gazed at it over the 
wall in silence. " Blessings on the head of that 
wonderful old tramp," said Norman, " who 
told me Alsander was the loveliest place in 
Europe and directed my steps on this glorious 
path; wherever he may be may joy attend 
him, so boldly did he bear the weight of 
years." Then down he went on his way again, 
humming to himself, 

" Know'st thou the land where bloom the 
lemon trees ? " 

and the birds were frightened of his deep voice 
and the little green lizards fled up the walls as 
he strode on down the hill. 

Many men can only enjoy beauty when 
they face it alone. These dark and solitary 
aesthetes love to ramble on the most horrible 
downs and heaths at intempestival morning 
hours, drinking in the miserable and fearsome 
aspect of the world. One such has said to me 
that he would walk half a day to avoid meet- 
ing a friend. I fear, too, that these characters 
consider their misanthropic tastes a self- 
evident mark of their superiority over the 
mass of men, who, herding together with 
vivacious chatter, much love-making, and 
explosion of corks, crowd to the prettiest 
places they know to enjoy Bank Holiday. 
Your lonely man claims a special communion 



30 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

with God or with the Spirit of Nature, or 
with the Rosicrucian mysteries of his own soul, 
so that his ramble becomes a sacrament, puri- 
fying by pity, terror and love. Norman was 
a little above this sort of rubbish: he felt 
dimly the cruelty of beauty and the menace 
of solitude. This sent him moving and set him 
longing longing very definitely for human 
companionship. Thus he fell short of the self- 
sufficient man recommended by Aristotle, for 
which the reader may devoutly praise the 
Lord. 

But the stilted style of this century can ill 
express the fluctuations of our hero's feelings. 
" Who is there " (I should have written in 
1820), "or what man of feeling and imagina- 
tion can be found, who, upon contemplating 
the ineffable grandeur and unspeakable ma- 
jesty of Nature, does not ardently aspire to 
hold at the same moment communion with 
some divinely tender female heart, to read in 
those liquid eyes his own reflections purged 
of their dross and transmuted into gold, to 
press those sensitive fingers and thereby lose 
himself in rapture among the gorgeous scenes 
that astonish and confound his gaze, to seal 
those fluttering lips with the memory of an 
unforgettable moment ? " 

To resume the use of the English language, 
Norman felt lonely, and for that very reason 
paid particular attention to the only figures 



ALSANDER 31 

discernible in the landscape. He came down 
and the figures came up, three companions 
they seemed to be. But presently Norman 
made out that the central figure was a girl, and 
her two shining companions were only the two 
pails she carried, slung from a yoke that 
passed behind her neck. " Life for me," said 
Norman to himself, as he and the girl drew 
near to each other at the combined rate of six 
miles an hour, " is crude marble, and I have 
come here to carve it into flowers, and the 
flowers of youth are the fairest of them all." 
Pleased with this ingenuous comparison, he 
looked up with a smile, and discovered that 
the neck which bore the yoke was a shapely 
one, and that there in front of him, not fifty 
yards away, stood a young girl, with her pails 
clanking at her side. She was dressed in a 
white frock and her head was covered with a 
white kerchief edged with gold. 

The reader now dreads the inevitable love 
scene, and I, too, feel that an apology is needed. 
For so many novelists, ballad-makers, jon- 
gleurs, troubadours, minstrels, poets, and 
bards have sung the praises of perfect, adorable 
arid captivating ladies that I am inclined to 
lament with one of them that 



I have sung all love's great songs 
And have no new songs to sing, 
But I'll sing the old songs again. 



32 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

And so I will. We will have those old songs 
again, for I will not give my heroine " plain 
but interesting features " or " a noble rather 
than beautiful countenance with intellect 
shining in her eyes," or even in a candid 
moment declare her to possess " a haunting 
plainness all her own." But apart from all 
this there is the truth to consider, and this 
young girl was assuredly one of the most 
perfect women God ever made by accident 
or Satan by design. 

For she stood there in front of him in the 
radiant, dancing, dewy morning, happy and 
unperturbed, in her gracious half-human 
beauty, not majestic, not passionate, not 
mysterious, but unreal from her very loveli- 
ness, a nymph, not of the woods or rivers, but 
of the sea yet not of the tempestuous main 
no tall sad siren of a treacherous rock, but a 
sweet, young pleasant nymph from a bay 
where the sun is always shining, a sea-sand 
nymph not unacquainted with flowers. 

For when I would deal with her face and 
body, all those feeble, pretty comparisons 
whereby the pen of the writer strives to emu- 
late the brush of the painter, must be of the 
sea or of flowers. Her dark hair, fringed against 
the gold lace of her scarf but those same 
painters (whom all we word-workers envy 
bitterly but dare not say so) have shown how 
many confluent colours hyacinth and blue 



ALSANDER 33 

and red and deep red gold, gleam in the 
shadowy hollows of the hair we fools call dark. 
. . . Dark ! As the sea-water in a sunlit bay 
lies dark between two little island rocks yet 
ripples in the wind, and the sea flowers turn it 
red along the marge and the depths glow 
violet in the midst, and the sunshine is all 
hear but hidden am I not now describing 
the dark hair of a lovely woman ? 

" But her eyes, poor poet, her eyes are 
they not also pools of the salt sea ? ' ! 

Not the eyes of this lass, my gentle friend. 
Her eyes were of finer and subtler essence 
than the heavy water of the sea. They were 
blue which is ever most wonderful with dark 
lashes, dark brows and sea-dark hair but 
not the dark blue of a rock pool nor yet quite 
the light broken blue of the blinking waves in 
the calm and brilliant bay. Her eyes were of a 
light dry fire the blue not of sea nor of sky, 
but rather of the glowing air that swims about 
the idle fisher's boat hour after hour on summer 
days. So that you could not tell if they were 
deep eyes or light wayward eyes, those little 
gay discs of laughing sunlit air. 

And her countenance, that was a sweet rose 
and jasmine garden but always, I would 
have you remember, a garden that blossoms 
by the sea, with vistas of the bay down every 
alley of the roses, and gleams of blue water 
glinting behind the trellis of the jasmine, and 

D 



34 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

the sea air slightly touching the colour of all 
the flowers. Have you not seen the flowers 
in that Italian picture that are flung round 
Venus as she rises from the sea! Even so a 
little paler than the brave inland flowers were 
the jasmine and roses in the garden of the 
countenance of this lovely girl. 

And her body? Can I tell you its secret? 
Ah, never: but as you leave the garden 

pluck one tendril from the vine. 

* * * * 

Her light, gracious, flowing beauty trans- 
ported the boy to the days he had read of, 
the days when the world was young. The 
chains of commerce and the shackles of class, 
as it were, the last tatters of his black 
British clothes fell from him. Looking at her, 
he smiled. 

She evidently took that smile as a greeting 
intended for her, for she seemed to wait for 
him to come down and to be in no hurry with 
her pails. 

' Good morning," she cried to him as he 
approached, in the honeyed and somewhat 
languorous speech of Alsander. 

" Good morning," said Norman. " May I 
help you with the water? " Alsandrian is an 
easy, simple, and sonorous language, and 
Norman had been learning it and talking it 
to himself ever since the tramp he met in the 
night had directed his thoughts and footsteps 



ALSANDER 35 

toward the country of Alsander, yet he was 
very shy at practising for the first time this 
newly-acquired tongue. 

" Ah, I thought you were a foreigner," said 
the girl, speaking with the strained simplicity 
and slight mispronunciation that we all of us 
employ for the benefit of strangers and infants. 
" What is your country and your home ? " 

" England." 

" England ? Why you are the first English- 
man I have ever seen! How beautiful you 
are ! 9! 

Norman smiled, unable, and indeed unwil- 
ling, to deprecate his personal appearance. 

"It is you who are beautiful," he said, 
slowly, labouring with the strange tongue. 
" Are they all like you in Alsander ? " 

" Do you think it possible ? ' ! 

She drew herself up with such grace that 
Norman's arms twitched and ached. But he 
was rather in awe of her. 

" How bright your eyes are! " he said. 

" Are they ? What colour do you think they 
are ? " she asked, turning them full on him. 

" They are blue. I have never seen such blue 
eyes in my life before." 

" You are quite sure that they are not 
green ? v 

Norman was not at all sure that they were 
not: they seemed to him to change colour 
like little bright clouds, and shone at that 

D2 



3 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

moment like a lustrous emerald. But he 
simply said that they were not green, as he 
could only make very simple phrases in the 
language of Alsander. 

" Are you going to stay long in this coun- 
try ? " inquired the girl. 

" I think I shall have to." 

He carved a dust pattern with his stick 
quite nervously, daring no more to look at her 
eyes. He asked her name. 

" Peronella," she said. " And yours ? ' 

" My name is Norman." 

" Nor-mano, how nice! " said the girl, who 
seemed to think that this bashful northerner 
needed encouragement. " Normano. I shall 
always call you Normano." 

"Always ? " saidNorman, looking up quickly. 

The shameless maiden hung her head with 
a rosy blush as though she had been caught 
in an indiscretion, as though the word had 
slipped from her unawares. But even at six 
in the morning, a sane though splendid 
hour, Norman, that reserved young English- 
man, considered such encouragement sufficient. 
He went deliberately and took the pails off 
the girl's shoulders, as though he were 
going to help her, and the moment they had 
clattered on the road, he embraced this 
adorable girl from behind and kissed her 
ravenously.&The kiss fell some two inches 
below her left ear. 



ALSANDER 37 

She stood very stiff, flushed and angry; 
but Norman simply maintained his pressure 
till her whole body unstiffened. Norman had 
adopted to good purpose the principle that 
returns the penny-in-the-grip machine and 
secures for Britain her extensive Empire. 

By this time they had become thoroughly 
nervous of each other. They sat down side 
by side on the wall near the spring. Norman 
ruffled his hair in embarrassment. Peronella 
murmured something about Fate. Norman 
inwardly disagreed; he did not think he ought 
to blame (or thank) Fate for the present con- 
tingency. 

c Where are you going to stay ? " asked the 
girl at last. 

" As near you as possible." 

" But don't you really know ? " 

" I know nothing. I am just a stranger, and 
I have come here for a ... for a ... damn/' said 
Norman in English to himself, " what's the 
word for a holiday ? for a rest." 

c You don't look as if you wanted a rest, 
and you won't get it if you stay near me." 

" Not rest," said Norman, " not rest exact- 
ly, but . . . amusement. Peronella, you know 
how hard it is to talk a foreign tongue. I have 
learnt Alsandrian in a book, but I have never 
talked a word of it before." 

c You talk it very nicely indeed; it is 
charming to hear you. It is not at all pleasant 



38 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

for us to hear men from Ulmreich talking 
Alsandrian. They make a horrible harsh noise, 
although they talk very carefully. But I think 
the lazy way you pronounce your o's and e's 
is charming ..." 

" / think," said Norman, looking at his 
watch with a smile, " that it is just twenty 
minutes since I first saw you and already 

55 

' " WeU ? " 

" I love you very much." He meant only 
to say " I like you very much," but in southern 
lands the linguistic distinction does not 
exist. 

The girl seized him by the wrists. 

" Don't say things like that, you devil," 
she cried, " especially if you do not mean it. 
Yes, say it even if you do not mean it; I love 
to hear you saying it. But be very careful. We 
are not like heathen women." 

" I mean it ! " said Norman, perforce. 

" Normano, did you treat all other girls 
like this in England, and do you think I allow 
other men ..." 

" It will be quite different," faltered Nor- 
man. 

" Say it again!' 1 

" Peronella, I really love you." 

Norman could not conceal a little yawn 
in his voice even at the moment of making 
this startling declaration; his eyes were 



ALSANDER 39 

heavy with light and he had walked for many 
hours. The girl perceived at once. 

"Why, you are quite tired!" she said, 
" and talking fearful nonsense. You must 
come and find a room at once. Have you been 
walking long ? " 

" Four or five hours," said Norman. 

" You curious person, to go walking in the 
night. Where have you come from ? ' ! 

" From Braxea. I had my supper in the 
inn last night, and I've been walking ever 



since." 



' What a pace you must have put on ! Why, 
it's ever such a way away. Braxea ? Why, it's 
right over the mountains on the frontier. 
Those long legs ! " she added, pointing to them 
with a laugh. " No wonder they go far. I have 
never seen such long legs, except on a grass- 
hopper. And now you will walk into Alsander. 
But you have not yet answered my question. 
Where are you going to stay in our city ? " 

" I don't know a bit, beautiful girl, as I told 
you. Perhaps you can find me a place, not far 
away from you." 

" Ah, perhaps I might," said she, " and 
perhaps I might not. I do not think you would 
be an agreeable neighbour." 

" Ah, why not ? Should I trouble and annoy 
you?' ! 

* You have no idea how to behave, none at 
all," murmured Peronella. 



40 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" Oh, I will learn," cried the boy, " if you 
will teach me." 

" And you will promise never, never again 
to squeeze my breath out in that awful 
manner? " 

" Faithfully I will promise everything you 
ask." 

" Why, then," said Peronella, rising up, 
with her eyes sparkling, "you had better 
come and live with my mother and me. 
We have a little pension and we want a 
lodger." 

" What ? " said Norman, not trusting him- 
self to have understood. 

" Come and live with my mother 
and me, that is, if you like." 

" Peronella, I am afraid." And indeed 
the boy was really getting seriously frightened 
of this persistent maiden. 

" But will you come ? Or will you not have 
enough rest or amusement? Perhaps you 
would rather stay at the Palace Hotel. Most 
foreigners do. Ours is a very poor house. But 
the Palace Hotel is not really a palace. Will 
you come ? It would be much less expensive for 
you, and we have no mosquitoes, and mother 
cooks divinely." 

" How dare you ask me, you mad girl ? 
You must think we live in snow houses and 
get our hearts frozen up in the north. Let us 
go at once ! " 



ALSANDER 41 

He made as if to accompany her, highly 
pleased at his proficiency in Alsandrian. 

" No, no," said the girl. " That will never 
do. People are beginning to get up now and 
would say all sorts of things. You do not know 
what tongues they have, the old women of 
the town. I should be shamed and ruined. 
But I have a beautiful plan. You must walk 
about thirty yards behind me and follow me 
home." 

Norman shook his head at her, not under- 
standing. It is so much easier to be metaphori- 
cal than to be practical in a foreign tongue. 

If you do not understand what I mean, 
consider a moment. You possess, let us say, 
a little knowledge of Italian, without tears. 
You are in a restaurant at Rome, and two 
Counts are discussing at the next table. To 
your delight you comprehend them perfectly. 
The Count with the white imperial has just 
observed, " La vera educazione, il segreto del 
progresso umano, e ideale." You admire the 
limpidity of his thought, the purity of his 
enunciation, and your own knowledge of a 
tongue so recently acquired. Then comes the 
infernal waiter with his coarse, plebeian ac- 
cent. Where are you now? Minestra, cipolle, 
rombo, sermone is the old Count going to 
preach one ? Holding back the scalding tears 
of shame, you feed the brute with English. 

Norman's obtuseness dismayed the girl. 



42 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" Oh, dear! " said she. " You don't under- 
stand a word. You are dreadfully stupid. What 
shall I do? Ah, I know!" 

Laughing merrily, she picked up two peb- 
bles, one longer than the other. 
c You," she said, " and me." 

Then she thrust Norman's stick into the 
grass to represent home, she explained. Then, 
kneeling down and pulling Norman beside her, 
she made the pebbles walk after her at even 
distances towards the stick. She made the 
short pebble trip along lightly with a mincing 
gait, while the tall one paced behind in gigan- 
tic strides, reverent and slow. At the stick she 
put another great pebble, squat and dumpy, 
to do duty for Mamma. The lady pebble 
tapped at the door and was admitted; the tall 
pebble thumped a few minutes afterwards; 
it talked inquiringly to the dumpy pebble, 
bowed to the graceful pebble, and finally (so 
Norman contrived to the girl's vast delight) 
kissed that graceful pebble rapturously behind 
the squat one's back." 

" Now," said she, " do you understand, 
you stupid ? " 

Norman understood the little pantomime. 
She started off. He had to call her back for her 
forgotten pails. Norman filled them and placed 
them lovingly on her back. She went a full 
hundred yards ahead, and then waved her 
hand, nearly spilling her pails as she did so. 



ALSANDER 43 

He followed, rather frightened, very thrilled, 
and overwhelmingly tired. 

Not otherwise did the Ithacan follow 
Na^-iriaa into the city of the Phceacians whose 
ships went wisely in the waves. 






44 



CHAPTER III 
EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 

You, sweet, have the power 

To make me passionate as an April day; 

Now smile, then weep; now pale, then crimson red ; 

You are the powerful moon of my blood's sea. 

The Witch of Edmonton 

NORMAN followed, through the crumbling 
gateway, past an old fountain half buried in 
roses, up narrow tortuous ways at the back 
of a huge cathedral. Then he came to a street 
of steps. The town was beginning to awake. 
Little boys and girls had begun to play on 
the thresholds with portentous solemnity; 
half-naked men were washing their brown 
bodies at the pumps; and from the newly 
opened shutters many a glittering eye mar- 
velled at the fair-haired stranger, as though 
he were some adventurous prince from the 
fantastic North, where it snows one half the 
year and rains the other, and red devils dance 
and moan in the perpetual fog. 

Norman saw Peronella disappear inside a 
house in the distance; he came up to it and 
entered. The staircase was a long one, and 
there were innumerable doors. However, he 



EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 45 

proceeded up the very dirty steps as long as 
the splashings from the pail guided him on- 
wards. ' 'She cannot have much water left in that 
pail," thought Norman. At last the splashing 
ceased by a door whereon hung the notice: 

" VIDVIISTO PRASKO 
CAMBRI PRO LTJI," 

signifying, as even Norman apprehended, 
that the lady of the house, a widow, would 
let rooms. Behind the door he heard Peronella 
chattering with exaggerated vigour. He rang, 
and the girl opened, scanned him up and 
down with mild astonishment (a piece of 
delicate acting, for which there was no reason 
whatever, as her mother, the widow Prasko, 
was busy clanking pans in the kitchen), and 
asked him what he wanted. 

" I want to live here in a room," was the 
muddled reply. 

" Wait a minute then, sir; I will speak to 
mother about it." 

She shut the door in his face with a crashing 
slam, and ran into the kitchen. 

" Mother," she said, in an impartial voice, 
as soon as there was a lull in the clanking of 
the kettles, " here is a foreign gentleman 
wanting a room." 

" AnUlmreicher?' ! 

" I don't know where he comes from; but 
I am sure he is not from Ulmreich." 



46 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" Because, you know," said the old lady, 
" however poor we may be, I could not stand 
having one of those people in the house: I 
simply hate them. They want all the floors 
cleaned with petroleum every day, and if 
there's a flea in the bed they curse one as if 
one were a beggar. It's no good, Peronella. I 
don't want any foreigners here, male or 
female. I never met a foreigner who was not 
much more interested in the way his room was 
dusted than in the style his food was cooked. 
Tell him to go away." 

" You had really better look at him first, 
mother. He looks such a very nice foreigner, 
and not a bit like an Ulmreicher. And though 
he is very dusty, I noticed he had a gold watch 
chain." 

" Well, well, girl, wait a bit and I'll come 
and see him. But I won't have one of those 
dirty Ulmreich pigs coming here and fussing 
about the fleas." 

Norman, waiting outside the door, heard, 
even understood, the widow's remarks, for 
she nearly always spoke at the top of her 
voice, and invariably acted on the assump- 
tion, usually justifiable, that no foreigner 
could speak more than three words of Alsan- 
drian. Yet he observed that the old lady's 
screech was not altogether unpleasant; it was, 
at all events, a peculiarly powerful noise. When 
the widow at length appeared at the door, a 



EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 47 

gigantesque apparition, he felt her to be 
striking enough to have a superior voice, or 
even to be the mother of Peronella. True, 
her face was wrinkled like an old lemon, or 
like a raised map of some uncharted country 
on the invisible side of the moon; and the 
vast cylinder of blue apron that she wore was 
not calculated to palliate either the rugosity 
of her face or the extreme fatness of her body. 
Yet for all her monstrous appearance she 
walked well, and had regular features, which 
suggested that neither her intelligence nor her 
will had disappeared, and had once been 
wedded to beauty. 

" Do you come from Ulmreich ? " she said 
to Norman in the language of that country, 
scanning him up and down. 

Norman, though he knew enough Ulm- 
reichan to master the import of her question, 
pretended not to understand, and stood 
dumb. 

" Where do you come from ? " the widow 
pursued in Alsandrian. 

" From England." 

" Ah, from England. I never knew anyone 
from England, but when I was in Ulmreich 
I met an American whose name I have for- 
gotten, but he was a nice man, in a good line of 
business, till he died. And how long have you 
been in Alsander ? 9! 

" I have only just arrived." 



48 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

4 You have only just arrived. And you talk 
the language ? " 

" I learnt it on my way." 

" And how did you find out my house, if 
you have only just arrived ? We do not adver- 
tise: we are not a regular pension. Only it 
happens we sometimes let a room." 

" I was wandering round looking for a 
room, and some one directed me here." 

" Now who could that be ? " 

" Oh, I don't know. A little man round the 



corner." 



"I wonder who it was. Was it a little cobbler 
with red hair ? That would be Simone. Did 
you notice if he had red hair ? ?! 

" I don't know," said Norman, inwardly 
consigning the old girl to perdition. " He wore 
a felt hat." 

" Ah, Simone has no hat," said the Widow 
Prasko. " And have you any luggage ? " 

" It is coming on by train." 

" Did you not come by train yourself ? ' ! 

" No," said Norman, crossly. " I have 
walked all night, from Braxea, and I am very 
tired. Please give me a room or refuse a room 
and send me away, at once." 

" Ah, forgive me," said the widow, quite 
courteously, " but I have a daughter in the 
house, and I must ask questions. And, of 
course, you must be either very mad or very 
poor or you would not have walked from 



EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 49 

Braxea, and if you had walked you would have 
gone to the hotel." 

" Do I look like the sort of man who would 
misbehave with your daughter ? " said Nor- 
man, stiffly. 

" Oh, I don't mind how you behave with 
her. But you might want to marry her, and I 
should not like her to marry a poor man." 

" I am fairly rich," said Norman, " but I 
have not seen your daughter long enough to 
decide about marriage." 

" You are rich and you want to find a room 
here ? " 

" Yes, please." 

" And food?" 

" Yes, food, too." 

" You will find it rather simple living. You 
would live much better at the hotel." 

" I would rather be here," said Norman. 
" I like to have people to talk to; I do not like 
hotels." 

" Well, you might as well come in and see 
the room." 

She showed him a small bedroom, almost 
entirely filled by an enormous curtained bed. 
It was a pretty room, papered in pale blue, 
ornamented with cuttings from French illus- 
trated papers, a statuette of a nakedish lady 
apparently eight feet high, called Mignon, 
an oleograph representing a romantic northern 
castle surrounded by impossible waterfalls, 

E 



50 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

and a clock which had been for many years 
too tired to work. Peronella it was who drew 
up the sunblinds and let in the pure air, for 
which the room thirsted. There was a view 
over the red roofs right out to sea. 

Norman expressed himself delighted. He 
settled the terms, and paid in advance for a 
month. He arranged to have meals with the 
family; he did not want to be lonely, and 
wanted to learn Alsandrian. All this obviously 
pleased the old lady, and Norman, too tired 
even to walk about in the city, shut himself 
up and slept, to the disgust of Peronella, till 
the late afternoon. 

His bag awaited him at the station a mile 
away, down on the plain on the land side of 
the rock. He walked there to get it, still too 
sleepy to look round him and enjoy the new- 
ness of things, and carried it painfully back. 
He tried that evening to clothe himself as 
fashionably as he could. He succeeded, at all 
events, in a country where the proper use of 
the starched linen collar and its concomitant 
tie is practically unknown, in impressing 
the Vidvino Prasko, who in her turn took 
great care to let him know that she was of old 
family and good education, and had been 
Maid of Honour to the last Queen of the 
country. And so she rambled on, giving Nor- 
man, who was eager to hear about the country, 
an .account even of its history and commerce, 



EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 51 

and left him greatly surprised at the extent of 
her knowledge. She had been brought up in the 
Palace itself, in the good old times, as she 
said, sighing, and knew more than most. For 
herself, she had a little pension from the 
Government. "It is worth no one's while to 
steal it," she observed, " and, besides, I have 
my daughter, whom I bring up most care- 
fullydon't I, Peronella ? " 

Peronella, who had discarded her white frock 
and now appeared in what had better only be 
described as her " Sunday Best," blushed 
modestly and hung her head beautifully. 
Norman, however, was not pleased, but rather 
disappointed to find she was not the peasant 
girl he had thought her, but a half-educated 
young lady with ideas. Troubled, he looked at 
her again. She was still there, still beautiful, 
still charming; but, alas ! how the spell of the 
morning was broken ! The nymph who stood 
before him, the very spirit of Nature, some 
few hours ago had had lessons in geography 
and fancy needlework, could even play the 
piano. She had almost the same accomplish- 
ments as those he and all Blaindon had 
admired in the pretty daughter of Mr Apple. 

And yet she was there opposite him, still 
beautiful, still charming. . . 

Soon after dinner the old lady declared 
herself sleepy and departed, admonishing 
Peronella not to stay up too late. 



52 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" That's just like mother," said the girl. 

'What?'" 

" She's taken a fancy to you all at once 
and goes off, leaving me alone with you as if 
you were a pet lamb instead of a . . ." 

" Lascivious lion," suggested Norman. " By 
the way, Peronella ..." 

" Yes." 

" Peronella, have you any more lovers ? " 

" How fond you are of repeating my name ! 
Of course I have. Do I look as if I hadn't ? He is 
called Cesano. He will be coming soon. He 
will certainly try to kill you. Do you mind ? ' 1 

"What?" 

" Being killed." 

" Of course, I should hate it." 

" You silly fellow. I mean, you aren't 
afraid ? ' ! 

" I am deadly afraid of being killed, so soon 
after meeting you." 

" Would you kill somebody for me if I asked 
you to ? " 

" Yes, unless I was likely to be hanged for 
it." 

" I don't believe you're at all brave, or 
very fond of me, after all." 

" I am rather frightened of you, Peronella, 
at all events." 

Some time after, a ring at the bell inter- 
rupted some similar inane, mock-passionate 
conversation. 



EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 53 

" You were talking about my lovers, dear 
Normano," said the girl. " If you want to see 
one, you have only to wait here while I open 
the door. Now, if that's Cesano, as I suppose 
it is, there will be fireworks. Be careful, 
Normano; he's a rival. Alsandrian lovers are 
not like English. They have hot blood in their 
veins. Listen, how he rings. He is angry 
already. Oh, Normano, go into your bed- 
room. It would be dangerous for you to stay 
here* 

" Nonsense; I have come to stay. Do you 
think I am frightened? I am longing to see 
this very passionate man and to learn how I 
ought to make love. 

She undid the door and Cesano entered. 
He was a dark individual, a few years older 
than Norman, with a bulging forehead, and a 
black moustache. He looked very much like an 
English maidservant's idea of a typical Spa- 
niard, being, furthermore, dressed in one of 
those horrible colour-combinations in velvet 
and silk that we English, perhaps the best- 
dressed people in the world, find so charmingly 
picturesque and so essentially artistic. 

" Good evening, Cesano; let me introduce 
you to our new lodger, an Englishman." 

The two men bowed to each other without 
saying a word. Cesano wasted no time. 

" Are you coming out ? " he said. 

"I should like to, Cesano, but I can't 



54 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

possibly leave a stranger quite alone for his 
first night in Alsander, can I ? ' : 

" Oh, he looks as if he could look after him- 
self, that great pink-faced lout of an English- 
man. Besides, what does he matter ? And he 
must be tired if he has only just arrived." 

" I am not at all tired," said Norman. " I 
have been asleep all day." 

Cesano gasped. 'It had never crossed his 
mind that a foreigner could understand a 
word of the language of Alsander. 

" Then you understand me, sir ? Then you 
don't mind ? " 

" I do rather. Especially since you have said 
I didn't matter. Particularly so since you called 
me a pink-faced lout of an Englishman." 

" Forgive me, sir," said Cesano, with in- 
tensive courtesy. " I could not have imagined 
that you understood my words. It is so rarely 
that we Alsandrians have the pleasure of 
hearing foreigners speak our tongue. And as 
you have understood me, you have under- 
stood that I was only in jest. And if there was 
a little offence, you must pardon me. I am a 
lover. We lovers are so hasty. It is natural 
to be jealous of all men when one is a lover. 
Of course, for me to have been jealous of you, 
even for an instant, was purely ridiculous." 

" 1 pardon you certainly, Signor Cesano," 
said Norman. " I pardon you with all my 
heart, but . . . ." 



EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 55 

Norman felt uncomfortable. He heartily 
wished that Peronella would go for her passion- 
walk with Cesano, and leave him to his too 
long neglected pipe. But, despite all his 
Englishman's vague terror of the foreigner, 
he had all a brave man's objections to hauling 
down his colours, especially in the face of so 
ridiculous an opponent as the Italian opera 
personage who stood there gesticulating at 
him, and whose politeness was thrice as 
offensive as his rudeness. So he dwelt a second 
on the word " but " and glanced at Peronella, 
who came to his aid only too gladly, and with 
consummate impudence took up the tale. 

" Normano desires to say " murmured the 
young lady in a very sweet voice " that you 
have plenty of cause for jealousy." 

" Cause for jealousy ! What do you mean by 
cause for jealousy ? Of him ? " 

" Ah ! he still finds the language a little 
difficult to speak, you know. Even you who 
are native do not seem to have mastered it 
completely, Cesano. Yes, of course, of him ! " 

" But what do you mean what do you 
mean ? What do you dare to mean ? " cried 
Cesano, crescendo. 

"This!" Here Peronella looked up at 
Norman with a glance of admiration and put 
her arm round his waist. Proud of her new 
lover, she thought also that it would be more 
prudent to display her colours at once. Cesano 



56 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

staggered to the wall, doubtless moved by real 
emotion, but with such theatrical gestures 
that he appeared a mere buffoon. 

"What has happened? Can I believe my 
eyes? Am I moon-mad? Have all the devils 
possessed me? Are you Peronella? Am I 
Cesano ? Is he your lover ? ?! 

He buried his face in his hands. Peronella 
would not answer the poor fellow. 

" What has happened? Has that pink 
foreigner bewitched your heart ? Are you tor- 
menting me or are you tired of me ? " he cried. 

" Not tired of you," said the girl, growing 
a little white but not relaxing her grip of 
Norman, " but very fond of him." 

" Fond of that person ? Who or what is he ? 
I have not the honour ..." 

" He is an English lord who came here this 
afternoon to live here." 

" An English lord in this mud-house ? " 

" It is good enough for him where I am." 

Meanwhile Norman was feeling awkward 
enough. The girl, it seemed, had taken pos- 
session of him almost without asking him, 
though doubtless it was his own fault, for 
kissing lonely nymphs all in the morning of 
the world. There she was publicly avowing 
him, and making him feel very mean and 
foolish before her honest, if extravagant, 
lover, who now went on with a sort of por- 
tentous dignity: 



EN PENSION IN ALSANDER 57 

" I am sorry. Forgive me, Peronella. I am 
confused. I cannot understand what has hap- 
pened. You cannot give me up after all these 
months for some one you do not know at all. 
It is absurd. It could not be. It is fantastic. It 
is unreal." 

" I did not know I had ever taken you," 
replied Peronella. " What have we ever done 
but go out for walks like friends ? " 

" But I was going to give up everything 
for you. Do not blast my youth." 

" It has been blasted before, Cesano." 

" Not like this time. I cannot sleep. Come, 
take away your arm, last of creatures. I can- 
not bear it. I will go mad. I will beat you. As 
for you, sir " (to Norman, in a deep bass), " I 
will deal with you after with cold steel ! " 

" Come, now," said Peronella, smoothly. " I 
am very sorry indeed. One cannot help the 
hand of Fate." 

" Hand of Fate," said Cesano, in justifiable 
wrath. " It has driven many women to hell, 
that hand of Fate. Do you kiss a new man 
every week ? Have you a price ? Was I not 
honourable ? Did we not talk of marriage ? Did 
I not pick you coral from the sea violets 
from the meadows ? 5! 

" Don't be poetic, Cesano, or I shall cry." 

" Cry ! Can you shed tears ? I have shed 
many for you at night beneath your window. 
But you have no heart ! " 



58 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" Why trouble then about so stony a young 
girl?" ' 

The affected languor of her tone irritated 
Norman almost as much as it was intended 
to irritate Cesano, but he could not well 
desert her now, and stood his ground. Cesano 
sobbed, put one hand on his breast and the 
other on a tableknife with which he made the 
most threatening gestures at Norman. The 
latter, who understood the hand-play more 
than the rhetoric, could not help laughing at 
the grotesque but unfortunate Alsandrian. 

" Ah ! you laugh now ! " said Cesano, fero- 
ciously. " Some day I will make you smile 
at the back of your head." 

And turning on his heel, to Norman's sur- 
prise, he went softly and quietly out of the room. 

" I am so sorry for Cesano," said Norman. 
" I did not mean to be rude to him; he is a 
good man. I am sorry you were so cruel to 
him. He has not deserved it of you." 

" Love is cruel ! And, 0, Normano, Love is 
divine ! " 

" Love is a very good subject of conversa- 
tion," said Norman, ungallantly. He was tired, 
and therefore had sagacious misgivings as to 
what he had let himself in for. " Good night," 
he added, and turned on his heel. 

" Is that all ? " said Peronella, opening out 
her arms. 

But the wary Englishman had fled. 



59 



CHAPTER IV 

INTRODUCING A GOOD BEGGAR AND 
A BAD KING 

Beautiful and broken fountains, keep you still your 
Sultan's dream? 

The Golden Journey to Samarkand. 

DESPITE any irritation he might feel in finding 
his pretty flirtation degenerate into a senti- 
mental romance which might end ill, for a 
week Norman led the golden life, and, after 
all, the golden life can only be led in sunny 
lands, by him who has a mistress on his arm 
and music in his soul, and it never lasts more 
than one week in the same place. The golden 
life in Alsander means swimming, sunstruck 
memories of old walls and young faces; it 
means prospects down tortuous streets of 
blue mountains towering to the sky or of blue 
skies falling into bluer seas. It means the 
discovery of an elegant fountain down this 
way, of a Roman inscription hidden in moss 
down that. It means the first view of the 
Cathedral square. For the fa9ade of the 
Cathedral of Alsander, first seen of a sudden 
some early morning, when the square is still, 
seems an impossible thing a mirage: it is 
so vast, so lovely, and so old. 



60 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

But for Norman in Alsander, as for many 
another, the chill Sunday of disappointment 
followed the week-days of delight. Naturally 
the first disappointment was Peronella. We 
have already hinted at Norman's disappoint- 
ment. It did not vanish, that disappointment : 
it grew. Can beauty be boring ? Ah ! ye gods, 
it can, if one has to talk to it, and it is stupid, 
But was Peronella not romantic ? Oh, yes, 
she was indeed, but romantic with a " k." She 
was romantick like the fair misses of a hundred 
years ago. But is not the romantick the same 
as the romantic in principle ? Oh, yes, indeed, 
the sentiment is the same; but to be romantic 
requires intellect, and to be romantick re- 
quires none. But was not Peronella edu- 
cated? Indeed she was, most abominably 
educated, quite enough to ruin all the fresh 
roses of her nature. She had not, could not, 
alas! read Ella Wheeler Wilcox, her poems, 
but, oh ! how she would have loved them had 
she known them! Marie Corelli she did read; 
you may buy her works in Alsandrian. But 
was she incapable of appreciating true litera- 
ture? Oh, no, she adored Shakespeare and 
Byron, which she read in translations. You see, 
her mother had ideas and considered herself 
a lady. Nevertheless Peronella began to bore 
Norman: the spell was broken! 

And once that spell broken, other enchant- 
ments lost their hold. The mirage lifted from 



A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 61 

the city of Alsander. The illusion began to 
disappear one day when it rained, and the 
next day, when Norman walked out alone 
after a sulky quarrel, it had utterly vanished. 
The rain had ceased, but the sun had revived 
the smells of Alsander (which were ubiquitous, 
insinuating, sometimes crushing) without dry- 
ing the streets. Norman slipped at every step 
he took in the glutinous mud. The utter 
disrepair of the cobbled streets made walking 
bs,d enough at any time, heartrending after 
rain. As for driving, it was a wonder there 
was a carriage in the place. Across one of the 
narrowest but most frequented roads gaped a 
fabulously large hole which had perhaps been 
opened for some vague drainage or burial 
operations. The displaced cobbles formed a 
little circular hill all round this preposterous 
cavity, which looked in consequence more 
like the crater of Etna than an honest hole in 
the road, and carriages had positively to be 
lifted over the hill into the valley and then 
over the hill again. A couple of men could 
have put it straight in half an hour but this 
was Alsander. 

The question will arise, " But what of the 
pavements ? " In Alsander, as a rule, there 
are no pavements, the roads being flanked 
on each side by little running sewers. Where 
pavements do exist they are used for idle 
shopmen to obstruct with their chairs or 



62 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

pushing shopmen to bar with their merchan- 
dise. They also have a way of coming to an 
end in the gutter after a few yards, just as 
you are getting your stride in, and then tempt- 
ing the foolish to wade across the road by 
casually sprouting up on the opposite side. 

Norman had all an Englishman's hatred of 
discomfort and waste; he felt that Blaindon 
could put Alsander to shame in the matter of 
public works; he feared the smells would give 
him typhoid, and he began to hate Alsander, 
and he heard the call of Roon, the God of 
Going, as it is written in the Gods of Pegana. 

Besides all this he was frightened and 
puzzled. He had fallen into a trap. He was 
looked upon as a prospective son-in-law by 
the Widow Prasko and that was ever so 
largely his own fault. Englishmen were ac- 
counted fabulously rich, and this one was 
evidently handsome as well. Peronella was 
already airing her proprietorship to the envy 
and admiration of the other maids of Alsander. 
Then Cesano was a nuisance with his little 
tricks, for he was as sincere as he was ridicu- 
lous the complement of Peronella with no 
redeeming beauty. He was only at the scowling 
stage at present, but would certainly advance, 
in accordance with the sound early Renais- 
sance tradition of the country, to powder in 
the coffee, snake in the boot, or knife in the 
back. But for all this, Norman was chivalrous 



A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 63 

and conscientious enough, and no coward, 
either; and though he felt it would be best 
for all concerned for him to leave his baggage 
and run away by the next train, his sense of 
honour was in conflict with anything that 
smacked of dishonesty or funk. Besides, he 
had not so much money left; he had to decide 
whether he would try and make a living here 
or elsewhere, and decide soon. It was part of 
his travel scheme (which was not so fantastic, 
after all) to work his passage, so to speak, 
in some way or other from place to place. But 
as yet he had not earned a farthing or so much 
as looked for work. This also depressed him. 

Thus it was that the great glass dome of his 
happiness was shattered, and the last hour of 
the golden life fell like a golden leaf from the 
tree of existence. And as for that moment 
when he heard all the bells of morning ringing 
in his ears and smiled at a girl with her pails of 
water, that was not a week but five thousand 
years ago, when all the skies were blue. 

Darkly brooding and much disillusioned, 
therefore, our. hero came to the Royal Castle 
of Alsander. He had not seen it close at hand 
before. It stands far from the centre of the 
town, on the steepest part of the rock, an 
unconquerable edifice of faceted stone, its 
Palladian gateway flanked by two stupendous 
fat uncompromising towers, with hundreds of 
yards of unbroken, unwindowed wall slanting 



64 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

outwards to the base, continuing beyond the 
towers to right and left. Two sleepy sentries, 
in a fine old uniform, holding in their hands 
some weapon, vaguely mediaeval, guarded the 
entrance. 

The strength, one might almost say the 
ugliness, of the castle pleased Norman's mood. 
He was just beginning to enjoy the scene, 
leaning by a fine old statue which stood in the 
midst of the square on a low pedestal and 
represented, standing twice life-size, hel- 
meted and hand to sword, the hero King of 
Alsander, Kradenda the First, the builder of 
the castle. He was gazing round intently, 
when an old crouching beggar interrupted 
him and asked him in a sort of hoarse whisper 
if he wanted to see the castle. Norman, with a 
disgusted and pitying glance at the filthy 
rags of the mendicant, offered him silver 
to be left in peace. 

"I do not want silver," said the old man. 
" Look you here " and he tossed into the air 
a heavy purse that hung by his girdle " I want 
to show you the castle." 

"Is it open to all visitors?' 5 inquired 
Norman. 

" No, but if I take you we shall pass," 
replied the vagrant, with assurance. Norman 
was surprised into accepting; more surprised 
still when the heavy-eyed sentries gave a sort 
of furtive salute to his disreputable guide; 



A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 65 

and most surprised on viewing the interior of 
the castle. " At all events there was one more 
thing to see in Alsander before I left," said he 
to himself. 

For inside the frowning battlemented walls, 
instead of harsh keeps and dungeons, were the 
beautiful ruins of a beautiful garden. There 
was a riot of greenery, to which roses, orange 
blossom, jasmine and hybiscus gave the pro- 
minent colours and scents. The grass was 
sprinkled with cyclamen, asphodel, red ane- 
mones and with wild remnants of old culti- 
vation. There were toy stone Greek temples, 
little cottages like English cottages, painted 
lath and plaster summer-houses like Turkish 
summer-houses, showing the bare bones of 
their construction at every windy corner. 

4 Who made all this ? " inquired Norman. 

The old beggar turned away from the 
garden and pointed to the vast encircling 
quadrilateral of the wall, as grand from within 
as from without. 

:c This wall," he said, standing up straight 
and waving his hand around with curious 
enthusiasm, and speaking in a vibrating but 
refined voice which ill befitted his rags and 
mouldering beard, " is the work of Kradenda 
the Great, founder of the power and glory of 
Alsander, against whose statue you were 
leaning in the square. Now I know many 
stories of the great Kradenda, and will tell you 

V 



66 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

one, my lord. In those days the Saracen galleys 
had driven the people of this land up into the 
hills, and the plain was all a waste. Now 
Kradenda was a shepherd lad, and one day 
he went out at the head of his fellows and 
burnt the fleet of the infidels. ..." 

" Oh, I have heard the story," said Norman. 

" Milord is impatient," said the beggar. 
" But I am glad that after so short a stay in 
Alsander he should know at least one story 
of Kradenda the Great. There are, of course, 
many other stories. My lord, have you heard 
how King Kradenda recultivated the plain ? ' ! 
No, I have not heard that story. Tell 



me." 



'Well, I will tell you. It was like this. 
Malaria had gripped those good rich lands, 
and not a soul would reclaim them for fear 
of disease. The Great King ordered his people 
to recultivate the plain. But so many died of 
fever that they murmured against the order. 
Thereupon he called to them and told them 
that they were soldiers and would they run 
from an enemy ? c Never,' they said, ' if he 
led them.' 'Do you not see, then,' said the 
King, c that fever is our enemy now that I 
have driven off the infidel: you must fight it 
and die for your country if needs be.' c We will 
obey,' said the old chief who had led the depu- 
tation, ' but only if you lead us.' Whereupon 
the Bang laughed and bade them follow him, 



A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 67 

and there and then he pitched his tent in the 
filthiest part of the marsh and began to dig a 
channel for the waters with his own hands. 
In that way the marsh was soon drained and 
dry, and such a man was the first Kradenda." 

" That is a good story," said Norman, " and 
well and concisely told. But tell me now 
about the garden and the summer-houses and 
the fountain." 

" What of them ? " said the guide. " The 
summer-houses are crumbling, the garden is a 
wilderness and the fountains play no more." 

" Weird talk from a beggar," thought Nor- 
man. " But who built them ? " he inquired 
aloud. " They are quite beautiful." 

" They were built by King Basilandron: 
he was quite beautiful, too." 

" I have never heard of him, though my 
landlady, who is a wise woman, has told me 
much of the history of your charming country." 

" Ah, we do not talk much of him in Alsan- 
der. Here is his name, cut in the wood." 

He showed Norman an inscription on the 
side of a little summer-house with wooden 
tracery and a faded blue paint, which ran: 
BACIAANAPQN." 

" But why is it in Greek letters ? " in- 
quired Norman. 

" He would have everything in Greek. 
He it was who called the river lanthe. It was 
known as Vorka before." 



68 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" You know the history of Alsander well," 
said Norman, more and more astonished at 
the language and erudition of his guide. 

" I love Alsander," said the old man. " I 
know all the stones of this castle and all the 
stories of Alsander 's past." 

" Then tell me the story of King Basil- 
andron," said Norman, " for I have never 
heard it. And after that I shall ask you to tell 
me the story of your life : for rags do not make 
you a beggar." 

" Neither does my erudition prove me to 
be a prince in disguise," said the old fellow 
with a smile. " But I would rather even tell 
you the story of my life, tragic as it is, than 
tell you the story of King Basilandron, which 
is the tragedy of a nation, and one that those 
who love Alsander do not care to tell. 

" Tell me first the story of Basilandron and 
then the story of your life." 

4 c It is little we poor citizens of Alsander can 
refuse to the inquiring tourist," said the old 
man with acerbity. " And may the devil 
torment you for a member of a great nation 
that can look after itself. We, you know, are 
supposed to be incapable of self-government, 
especially since we went bankrupt a year or 
two ago, and actually dared to ruin some 
French bondholders. Since that day the Great 
Powers have been terrifying us with an inter- 
national commission. If ever there is a free 



A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 69 

fight in a cafe here, or a dog-fight in the square, 
some foreigner writes to a European newspaper 
about the anarchy in Alsander. American 
missionaries, who believe in Noah's Ark and 
the historical existence of Methusalem, revile 
the degraded superstitions of our peasants who 
still hold to their immemorial festivals in 
honour of the water that bursts from the rock 
or the grape that grows dark on the vine. 
And now we are threatened with inspectors, 
all of varying nationalities, to avoid all 
appearance of intrigue or possibility of 
jealousy. You see our strategic importance is 
the only importance left to us otherwise we 
should long ago have disappeared. So we are 
to have a Spanish Financial Inspector and a 
Swiss Sanitary Board. Our gendarmerie will 
be organized by a virtuous Dane. Our agricul- 
ture will be modernized by an energetic 
Dutchman. Our public conveniences will 
doubtless be improved by one of your own 
compatriots." 

" My compatriot," said Norman, " will not 
be unoccupied. But I insist upon your telling 
me the tale of King Basilandron." 

" I will tell you, milord, since you are so 
importunate, but forgive me if I have been 
impolite. These things touch me so near. 

" Well, then, King Basilandron ruled in 
days when certain ideas from Italy, having 
reached Alsander, had turned the heads even 



70 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

of sober people and made great havoc of the 
Court. It was in those days that all this wood 
and plaster work which you so much admire 
was erected; it was in this garden that night 
after night King Basilandron held revel, to the 
great pleasure of those engaged therein. The 
Court was all crammed with fiddlers, painters, 
poets, dancers, barbers and buffoons. But they 
were quack fiddlers, feeble painters, vile poets 
and clumsy dancers, who would not have dared 
to move a leg in Italy. But the barbers and 
buffoons were such as the world has never 
seen, so dexterous and stylish. Need I tell you 
how the country was taxed to maintain this 
alien population, or how the people groaned 
and murmured, or how the aesthetic monarch 
kept them quiet and amused by diverting 
pageants ? All sorts of pageants there were 
of beggars, thieves, madmen, lovers, heretics 
(real heretics, subsequently burnt), queens of 
antiquity, widows, tigers and Turks. But a 
pageant was the end of the whole business, as 
I will tell you now. 

"One day the King resolved to re-establish 
the worship called of Orpheus, to the great joy 
of his friends. He clothed himself as Bacchus, 
though per Bacco he looked more like 
Silenus (if the painters of his day did not make 
him more ugly than he was, which in those 
days was not the custom of Court painters). 
His escort was a troop of noble ladies clothed 



A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 71 

in forest branches and none too leafy: and 
one summer evening under the full moon off they 
went singing to the mountains. After they 
had danced their fill and sinned God knows 
what sins, the moon set and back they swooped 
on the city in a sort of make-believe battle 
line; and there at the gates was the army of 
Alsander mumming in Greek tunics waiting 
to receive their amorous attack. But at that 
very hour a different host was approaching 
Alsander forgotten barbarians from Ulm- 
reich and the two hosts met. And that is all 
and that has been all for the glory and 
power of Alsander," concluded the old man, 
bitterly. 

" But Alsander is independent still." 

" An independence handed her as a gift by 
Ulmreich and Gantha, her two great neigh- 
bours, is not much worth having. The day one 
of them is strong enough to seize us from the 
other, we shall go. Or if that international 
commission really sits, it is as good as death 
to our little nation. We shall never more be 
able to raise our heads and chiefly through 
the fault of King Basilandron." 

" But much might be done now," objected 
Norman, with a certain breeziness. " Why 
should Alsander have to wait for an inter- 
national commission, before getting her streets 
paved ? Look at my boots." 

" I would rather look at your eyes than at 



72 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

your feet, young Englishman. As for Alsan- 
der, she cannot be clean while she is corrupt. 
That would be hypocrisy, and we have never 
sunk so low as that. But in Bermondsey the 
streets are excellently paved. And, by God! 
Alsander, in all its poverty and decay, is not 
so vile a place as Bermondsey, nor are its 
people so brutal or so blind as yours." 

" We have no sun," said Norman. " But 
come, you have been in England, you are a 
wonderful old man. Tell me your story now 
that you have told the story of Basilandron." 

" I cannot tell my story," said the old man, 
shaking as if with sorrow. " My tragedy is so 
little when I think of the tragedy of my 
people that I can only say Alas for Al- 
sander ! " 

" You, sir, are a great patriot," said Nor- 
man, touched into respect of all this passion 
in all those rags. 

" I, sir, am a very old man," replied the 
beggar, and Norman could not tell why the 
reply was so appropriate. 

" I understand now," said Norman, " why 
you hate these pretty pavilions and love 
those old walls. And I suppose the present 
state of Alsander must distress you. But 
surely some young and vigorous ruler could 
still do wonders for Alsander? I have been 
told, to my great surprise, that the King, 
though young, is insane. I have heard also 



A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 73 

that he usually lives in this castle, but that 
the Jewish doctor who attends him, and who 
is said to be the cleverest man in Alsander 
(and some say the wickedest), has sent him 
to England or Ulmreich or somewhere as a last 
hope. If only a new and vigorous King could 
rule this land awhile, there is still a chance of 
greatness ; but it is astonishing that the people 
seem neither to know nor care exactly who or 
where their King is, or what his true state of 
health may be. Perhaps you are better in- 
formed? I heard myself that the King had 
been sent to some European asylum to be 
cured, but no one seems to know to which 



one." 



i; As to that point, I can only assure you, 
my lord, that there is no hope for the King's 
sanity. It is pure degeneration of race." 

" Then I inquired why the heir to the throne 
was not installed in his place. No one seemed 
to like to talk of that subject. But it appears 
she is a girl living somewhere in Ulmreich, 
very young, and as mad as the King." 

" I do not think the young lady in question, 
whom I once had the honour of meeting, is 
exactly mad," said the beggar. " A little 
wild, one might say, and her guardians are 
wise enough to let her do as she pleases. I 
expect our illustrious Regent has been spread- 
ing that fable." 

" You mean Duke Vorza ? I understand 



74 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

he is virtually despot of Alsander now. I have 
heard a great deal of grumbling against him, 
but nothing very definite, though I have 
heard some people say that the King is not 
really so mad as his physician and the Regent 
pretend." 

" Duke Vorza," said the beggar, " is a man 
of great talent and ambition. He does not 
like the people of Alsander to talk very much 
about anything. To have seen him kiss the 
peasant children in the streets on the day he 
raised the tax on matches was what you might 
call a lesson in political economy. It is mar- 
vellous, too, how he manages the city council 
a rather enlightened body of merchants and 
professional men and opposed to his reac- 
tionary policy. He distributes invitations to 
dinner at exactly the right moment, and if a 
dinner fails he decorates. Sforelli (who is only 
considered a scoundrel because of his dark 
features and undoubted ability) is almost the 
only one of them man enough to withstand a 
title or a decoration. The consequence is he 
dare not venture out of his house after dark 
for fear of meeting one of Vorza's ruffians in 
the street. Oh, there are many dark stories to 
tell of Vorza, but such is the stupidity of 
popular rumour it has seized on the most 
improbable, Vorza and Sforelli, though out- 
wardly amiable to each other, are in secret 
bitter enemies, and as for the madness of the 



A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 75 

Bang, I assure you he is as mad as anyone 
could pretend him to be." 

" But no one seems to have seen him for 
years," objected Norman. 

" I have, but few others," said the mendi 
cant. 

" There's something terrible about a King 
whom his people seem never to have seen," 
said Norman. 

" Listen to me," said the old man in a low 
and dramatic whisper. " I may not be quite 
what I seem, as you surmise, and I may have 
powers even you do not suspect. Would you 
like to see the King of Alsander and discover 
for yourself how terrible he is ? " 

" Do you mean to say he is here ? " ex- 
claimed Norman. " Is it not true that he is in 
Europe and do the people really not know 
where he is ? " 

" Did you not hear that he was expected 
back ? " % 

" There was a queer rumour, now I come to 
think of it," said Norman, thinking of his 
talks with Pedro the cobbler and others, " that 
he was coming back cured." 

" Well, he has returned, not cured, and that 
is all," said the old man. 

Norman started a little. 

" I seem to recognize your voice," he said. 
" Surely I have met you before ? ' ! 

" Don't you remember, my lord, the old 



76 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

tramp you met in Gantha, who told you all 
about the beauties of Alsander ? " 

c Why, that eloquent old fellow, was it 
you ? It was you, then, persuaded me to come 
to this country. I have much to thank you for: 
it is a wonderful country indeed. But it was 
dark on the road that night and I could hardly 
see you. So you are he. But you were not talk- 
ing Alsandrian but English." 

" I have wandered, and you have learnt 
Alsandrian." 

" Yes. I found the little book you left in my 
pocket. But tell me, who are you ? Of course, 
I cannot believe you to be a beggar. Enough 
of these mysterious tricks. You are a man of 
eloquence and learning. You must be a person 
of diplomatic importance, if you can really 
show me the mad King of Alsander." 

' You shall really see him as I promised," 
said the old man, and making a trumpet of his 
hands he called out " Yohann! Yohann! " in 
a remarkably sonorous voice. Immediately 
there appeared from the lodge beneath the 
gate a sentry at whose girdle dangled two large 
keys. He came up to them and saluted, but 
made no remark, and in silence they all three 
went across the gardens to the vast loopholed 
wall opposite the gate. The sentry opened an 
insignificant little door half hidden in the 
wallflowers that dangled from the crevices 
between the mighty stones. 



A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 77 

" The walls are thicker than you supposed, 
are they not, my lord ? " said the tattered 
guide. 

Norman gasped with astonishment. A huge 
corridor pierced the wall from side to side and 
top to bottom, a corridor at least a hundred 
feet long and eighty feet high, yet only of a 
breadth for three men to walk side by side 
and lit only by a tiny window at the extreme 
end. Norman having walked over to it saw 
that the window commanded a sweeping view 
of the plain of Alsander, the river lanthe, 
the sea, the mountains, and also noted that 
no one could look in through that window 
whoever might look out, for the wall on 
that side is built on the top of a sheer precipice 
of rock. Meanwhile the second key was being 
applied to another small door half-way down 
the corridor on the left. It opened groaning; 
the centre of the corridor was flooded with a 
shaft of light. 

" Enter, my lord," said the mysterious 
guide. " This is the throne-room." 

It was a most presentable type of dis- 
jointed majesty, this throne-room, the apothe- 
osis of the ruined summer-house outside, a 
wreck of what had once been a gorgeous but 
not entirely tasteless mass of plaster gilding 
and paint in the style of the late Renaissance. 
Sham large windows had been let in to hide the 
little grills in the wall; in the intervening space 



78 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

the two hooks were still visible where once 
lamps had swung to flood the hall from with- 
out with artificial daylight. The ceiling, a false 
one, for the room went up of old to the height 
of the wall, like the corridor outside it, was 
painted with a device in cunning perspective, 
representing the apotheosis (among very pink 
angels) of King Basilandron, the same who 
christened the river lanthe and was respon- 
sible for the disaster of the Bacchic revels. 
The picture, and indeed the entire room, dated 
from his lifetime. The wall decorations, how- 
ever (according to information which Norman 
subsequently gathered), were added by his 
son very tasteful designs of apes and China- 
men singeries and chinoiseries. Basilan- 
dron II evidently disagreed with his father's 
idealistic tendencies, and held a firm belief 
that art should not aim at expressing any 
meaning, not even a lascivious one, but should 
rather consist of graceful and intricate de- 
signs. In this way he anticipated many of the 
most brilliant modern theorists. Although 
these panels had suffered considerably owing 
to the inferior quality of the paint employed, 
their condition was good compared with the 
dado, the composition columns, the settees 
and other accessories of the room. Dust, black, 
deep and ancient, had settled among those 
gilded lilies and plaster cupids ; part of the 
work had fallen away, exposing the supporting 



A GOOD BEGGAR AND A BAD KING 79 

wires, and part was grievously cracked. It 
may be because plaster cracks more irregu- 
larly than marble, but whatever the reason 
a noseless plaster Muse, however elegant 
originally, cannot reassert her loveliness like 
an antique torso or the armless Aphrodite. 

Moreover, the spider, ubiquitous and re- 
morseless, had woven his octagonal mesh in 
every crevice of the wall, and, more shame- 
lessly still, among the pendants of the great 
glass chandelier, wherein were still sticking 
grisly and darkened stumps of candle, the 
same that had been lit at the requiem of the 
last King of Alsander twenty years ago. 
Since then a plain lamp (so portable and so 
much easier to light) had been deemed suffi- 
cient for the service of the Court. 

Perhaps the most pitiable objects in the 
room were the two or three sofas that still 
remained, their gilt tarnished, their tapestries 
mouldy and eaten by the moth. But the hall 
contained another seat of a far different aspect, 
impervious to such decay. Beneath the great 
rose window it stood, at the upper end of the 
room, strangely out of place, a cold and massive 
work, the ancient throne of the Kradendas. 
It was fronted by wide steps, flanked by gro- 
tesque yet grand lions, and wrought of granite 
rock. And if this rude and barbaric throne 
was anomalous in so artistic a room, still more 
vivid was the contrast between the majesty 



80 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

of its structure and the majesty of him who sat 
thereon. 

For there sat the imbecile Andrea, with 
watery grey eyes, with hair and hands un- 
kempt, arrayed in the stifling drapery of his 
state robes. He was a young man, but he 
seemed to have been alive five hundred years. 
His features parodied the portraits of his 
ancestors. With the heavy iron crown of 
Alsander on his head, and a great silver 
sceptre in his hands, he sat immobile; only 
his mumbling lips seemed to address a phan- 
tom and imaginary Court. 



81 



CHAPTER V 

OF THE KNIGHTING OF NORMAN 
PRICE 

Do diddle di do, 

Poor Jim Jay 
Got stuck fast 

In yesterday. 

Peacock Pie. 

THE madman on the throne seemed to know 
Norman's guide, for he showed no surprise, 
but asked immediately: 

" Whom hast thou with thee, last courtier 
of the Court of the Kradendas ? " 

"A young squire, my liege the King, 
who will devote his life to rescue the house of 
the Kradenda from infamy and harm," said 
the beggar. 

4 c He is young, but our need is great. Above 
all, we need brave men. We need such men as 
have made Alsander what it is. Tell me," he 
continued, turning to Norman, " are you brave 
or fearful? v 

" You should humour him," whispered the 
old man to Norman, who, astonished at the 
whole scene, and especially at this antiquated 
and abrupt form of address, did not know what 



82 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

to reply. " He is in the middle ages. For him 
this hall is still hung with cloth of gold, but 
he knows that his courtiers have left him, and 
fears treachery and, above all, magic. He is 
a brave man, my liege the King," added the 
old man aloud. 

" Let him speak for himself, then, and do 
not whisper so much to him in my presence. 
Sir stranger, are you afraid of dragons ? '' 

" Of none," said Norman, vaguely wonder- 
ing if he were telling the truth. 

" well, very well," said the King. " I 
have need of the strong and resolute. Too long 
has my kingdom lain in ashes and ruin; too 
long have I been pent up in this dismal room, 
a powerless captive, I, the son of the Kra- 
dendas ! I tell you there has been foul treachery 
and foul black magic. But it shall end. I will no 
longer be the sport of a thing who flaps his 
wings in my face. But his hour has come. No 
more scales and fins for me. Listen closely. I will 
whisper to you the vital secret. I had it in a 
dream. You have only to hit him in the fifth 
rib. But, whatever you do, do not let him 
change his shape. You can catch him this 
evening. Wait behind the curtain. He 
comes here always at seven o'clock to play 
chess with me, squares and squares and 
squares." 

" I will be there in waiting." 

" Will you take an oath to be bold in my 



KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 83 

cause, to fight for me, and to serve me faith- 
fully, and my Queen ? " 

" I will have every care of your Majesty 
and of your Majesty's kingdom," said Norman, 
keeping up the spirit of the thing at a further 
hint from his companion, despite his disgust. 

" I think you are not of this country," ob- 
served the King. " Come you from North or 
South, or from the rising or from the setting ? " 

" From the North, your Majesty," replied 
the boy. 

" Fair scion of the North, I will swear you 
have no lies upon your lips. What is your 
name ? ' ! 

" Norman, if it please your Majesty." 

" And are you Knight ? " 

" I am but squire, your Majesty." 

" Then, my deliverer, since for years no one 
has cared for my ruined Majesty, save this, my 
last, my oldest, my only courtier, for my 
leech I count not; since you alone have prof- 
fered your service to a deserted and broken 
King, I am filled with good intentions 
towards you and propose to bestow upon you 
now at this moment the ancient and honour- 
able distinction of knighthood, that you may 
bear me homage. Once more, will you swear 
to serve me faithfully ? " 

" Oh, certainly," said Norman, the more 
uncomfortable in that there was something 
rather noble about the King's madness. 

G2 



84 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

' Then kneel," said the King, rising, as he 
said the words, in all his battered splendour, 
with the deep seriousness of a young child at 
play. Solemnly and almost gracefully, with 
the wooden sword that a wise supervision 
allowed him, he dubbed Norman Knight, 
according to the famous custom of chivalry, 
which even in England is not quite dead. 

" Rise, Sir Norman," he cried exultantly. 
" I have long waited for you, my deliverer 
and friend, for you and for this hour. I have 
no doubt of your valour: I have every confi- 
dence in your success. And as soon as the 
Dragon is killed the spell will be broken: as 
soon as the spell is broken my courtiers will 
return: as soon as my courtiers return their 
wives will come with them, and troops of 
beautiful women will kiss my hand. Every 
morning I will hunt to the sound of the horn 
up the valley, down the valley, after the wild 
boar. Every evening we will eat his succu- 
lent flesh in this my ancestral hall. We will 
fill this room with pageantry yet, and hold 
such a feast as this cracked ceiling has not 
supervised for many a long year. And we will 
put cushions on this uncomfortable throne, 
and gild it over so as to have it more in keep- 
ing with our state and dignity. On the day 
you kill the Dragon, Knight of the North, all 
the cathedral bells shall ring and the foun- 
tains shall run with wine, and the populace 



KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 85 

will shout and brandish flowers all day and 
wave lanterns all the night. But, ah ..." 

The voice dropped from ecstasy to fear and 
went on in a muddled murmur: 

" But kill that Dragon soon, Knight of the 
North. Go out to him soon, go out this evening, 
before dusk. I would not pass another night 
like yesternight, with his eyes staring in 
through my head. He is a basilisk: his glance 
is death: go quickly. go quickly leave my 
presence slay that dreadful beast ! v 

" We will go and slay him at once," replied 
the old man. " Come, young Englishman," he 
added in an aside, " I am willing enough to 
take the hint. I have no taste for this 
spectacle." 

" Above all," the King cried after them, 
" bring me his head." As they turned and 
looked back from the door they saw that the 
King had again collapsed into his throne, and 
was again working his lips in silence. 

Not till they were out in the garden again 
did Norman speak. 

" What does it all mean ? Who are you, and 
what have you shown me ? " asked the lad. 
This morning the world was as ordinary 
as a sixpenny magazine: and now my head 
is turning, and I am walking not like a man 
in a dream, but, what is worse, like a man in a 
painted picture. Those flowers are fatal and 
those walls fantastic. Quick, tell me, what 



86 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

does it all mean? The sunshine is grimac- 
ing!" 

' You have seen," said the stranger, " the 
Secret of the Picturesque. For now we must talk 
up on a higher plane." 

" Damn the higher plane: tell me who you 
are. But there, do you think I didn't know it 
all the time ? You can be none other but that. . . " 

" Not a word," said his companion, cutting 
him dead short. " You did not know it till 
now, when I intended to let you know. By 
' it ' I mean either the Secret of the Picturesque 
or what you meant by c it.' Besides, it's not 
true that I am this or am that; that depends 
on what I am." 

" Puzzle me no longer: talk plain sense," 
implored Norman. 

" Surely my words are plain enough. What 
is it you want to know ? '' 

" Your name and history." 

" I have no name, but my friends are 
allowed to call me the Old Man. My history 
is a dead secret. But if you are in earnest and 
willing to talk on the higher plane, I will 
explain to you the meaning of my remark 
about the Secret of the Picturesque." 

" I am willing," said Norman in desperate 
bewilderment, and eager to hear any explana- 
tion about anything. 

His guide seemed as mad as the King and 
needed humouring no less. 



KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 87 

" Come to this bench then," said the Old 
Poet, " and I will illustrate my meaning with 
a fable of my own composition." 

And taking a manuscript from his pocket, 
without waiting for a word of acquiescence 
from Norman, who was getting very hungry, 
he read as follows : 

" There was a man (so majestically made 
that I knew him at once to be the type of 
Man) walking along a narrow pathway that 
led from the valley up towards the hills, fol- 
lowing a stream. As he strode along two 
enchanting girls came flying from the South, 
poised on dragonfly wings; one of them had a 
lyre in her hand, which she played merrily, 
and the other an antique scroll painted over 
with a multitude of amusing and delicate 
figures. The man was obviously pleased at 
the arrival of these spirits; he rejoiced in their 
companionship (as who would not?), and 
they all three sang and laughed together on 
the way. So intent was he on their diverting 
frolics that while crossing a narrow bridge of 
planks he nearly fell over into the river, and 
as time went on, and the pathway began to 
ascend the hillside more abruptly, I won- 
dered if he was not beginning to find their 
company a little tedious. For while one of 
them buffeted him over the eyes with her 
playful wings, the other flung her robe, for 



88 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

amusement, round his naked body, and em- 
barrassed his movements. However, he got 
rid of their teasing very soon, and at a point 
where the path entered a dense forest and 
they had no room to spread their wings I 
saw him laugh at their discomfiture. The track 
grew no better upon leaving the forest, for it 
was cut in the side of a precipice. The two 
maidens flew with weary and trembling wings 
over the horrible gulf, or else tore their dresses 
and bruised their feet trying to follow over 
the rocks. The man was hindered by them 
still, for he had to help them, and to judge 
by his slow progress and perpetual stumbling 
he was no skilled mountaineer. I wondered 
what miracle had preserved him as I watched 
his perilous ascent; and finally I saw that his 
right hand was grasping another hand, which 
had no visible body. 

:c Very naturally, when they arrived at a 
little dell very high up in the mountain, 
where there was a withered tree and a little 
moss, the girls implored the man to take a 
little refreshment. But the man's attention 
was fixed on the last portion of the ascent, 
a steep snow slope, at the top of which a black 
rock rose sheer out of the snow; let into the 
rock was a glittering brass door. So he refused 
to dawdle, and, gripping the hand, he began 
climbing at once. The women summoned all 
their courage and followed on foot: they were 



KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 89 

too tired to fly any more; and now one, and 
now the other, was glad of their companion's 
free left arm. At last they came to the door; 
the mysterious hand touched a spring; the 
door flew open to divine music and some one 
bade the traveller enter. 

" But he turned away his eyes resolutely 
from the superb enchantments of the cave, 
and swore he would go back unless he could 
take with him the girls of the dragonfly wings, 
for the sake and memory of their old and 
sweet companionship. The poor fairies were 
bedraggled and muddy, their pretty wings 
hung limply down their backs; they could 
hardly smile when the man kissed them. 

Ci ' They cannot be admitted without 
initiation,' said the person to whom the hand 
belonged, ' and they will not endure.' 

" * We will endure any pain, if we may 
only come in with the Man,' they cried both 
together, and bent forward trying to pass in 
and to penetrate the depths of the cavern with 
longing looks. 

" The hand persuaded the traveller to go 
inside the cave, and promised that his friends 
should follow. He obeyed, but taking no notice 
of its beauties stood listening behind the door. 
He heard the whistling of a scourge and gasps 
of pain. Then quiet; the door opened, and 
there appeared his two companions, yet 
changed, and with a deep fire in their eyes: 



90 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

and they had eagle pinions in the place o 
dragonfly wings." 

' That is very charming indeed," sai< 
Norman. " But does it quite explain you 
remark ? " 

" If you were to read Plato with atten 
tion," said the old man, " you would acquir 
the habit of seizing the point of a parable." 

" I have read the New Testament." 

" But this is philosophy." 

" And I am sure," said Norman, " that ha< 
Plato written that story you have told me 
it would have acquired a great reputation 
But as for the connexion of the parable an< 
your remark, I conceive that in both yoi 
show a dislike of the picturesque, or pretty 
considering it the foe of beauty." 

" The picturesque, my son, is the beautiful 
but only a section thereof. In this fable I hav 
represented it as miniature beauty. The othe 
fable of the picturesque I have no need t< 
write; it is written over the world from th 
columns of Baalbek to the arches of Tintern 
and blazed on every stone of Alsander." 

" You mean the picturesque which is decay 
ing beauty ? v 

" I do," said the old man. 

" I understand you, venerable Sir, bu 
why are you so passionate about it all ? v 

" Don't you see, boy, I love Alsander witl 
a love a little different from the love of th< 



KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 91 

tourist who comes to photograph the ruins. 
Oh ! I have worked for her; but she is dying, 
dying, dying like a rose on a sapless tree." 

" I am afraid you are right," said Norman, 
sadly. " After what you have shown me I 
have no hope for unfortunate Alsander." 

" Impudent tourist ! Do not dare blaspheme 
against the Queen of cities ! " growled the old 
man. There is more hope radiating from a 
wayside shrine of Alsander than from all the 
ten-million heretic barns of your greedy North. 

But Norman was used by now to these 
intermittent bursts of fury. " At all events," 
he rejoined, " Alsander is no place for an 
Englishman. I have had enough of it. I have 
to-day seen its last and most tragic secret. 
To-morrow I will go." 

" You are not going so soon? " There was 
real dismay in the old man's voice. 

" By the first train to-morrow." 

"Oh no, no, no ! You must stay. I did not 
mean to speak so soon as this, but I must tell 
you now. I have great plans for you a fine 
work a whole future. Come: sit on this bench 
a moment, let me talk to you in earnest. O 
you cannot possibly be allowed to go at once. 
Do you not realize the deep seriousness that 
lies beneath all my mannerisms ? Do you 
think that it was to satisfy a traveller's 
curiosity that I showed you that poor, miser- 
able madman seated on his throne ? " 



92 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" I do not know why you showed me the 
King or why you ever disturbed my life or 
why you ever do anything you do. But as for 
work, I prefer to find it for myself. And 
without wishing to offend you, I want to leave 
this place. I do not want to be involved in 
your mysterious schemes." Norman spoke 
stiffly. The old man alarmed him. 

" I will thicken the mysteries round your 
head like clouds before I permit you to leave 
Alsander, Norman Price." 

" Then it is you," said Norman, startled 
at the sound of his name. You are the old 
fellow who bought the tin of Menodoron off 
me months ago at Blaindon. You are the tramp 
who sent me to Alsander. And now you have 
got me to Alsander you want to drive me to 
perdition. But I am not going to have my life 
upset by you any more." 

And Norman rose from the bench and 
confronted the old man with folded arms. 

" Indeed, are you not ? " was the reply. 
" Come, I promise you a rare adventure." 

' What adventure ? " 

" I'm not going to spoil the first chapter 
of the story by looking up the last page. 
Trust and obey me as you trusted and obeyed 
me before the greybeard with the blue eyes. 
Did my advice turn out so badly? Do you 
presume to tell me that you are sorry I drove 
you to Alsander ? " 



KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 93 

' Oh, as for that, IVe had a glorious 
journey. But the time has come for me to 
go. I have no money left. And I have personal 
reasons." 

" I know, I know." The old man tapped 
with his stick. " Some pretty wench, is that 
the matter ? Has it come to this so soon ? " 
; You have guessed rightly." 

" Foolish boy. Is such a game worth your 
pursuing you with a mind ! Not to mention 
that it's poor sport hunting doves. There's 
but one way for such as you with a maid. 
Try the intellect first then ask the heart. 
Love's ways are folded in the mind. Second- 
rate poets may walk in their gardens pre- 
lassing up and down, singing you songs of 
the scholar that loved a farmer's girl. But 
you and I are wise enough to know love from 
lust, Norman Price. Lust has her whims, even 
her selections that I grant you: but shall 
she delude us into taking her for Love ? ' ! 

" Lust is a great Goddess as well as 
Love." 

" It may be; but she is a great foe of reason- 
able men. And Love comprises all her power 
and many other powers besides. But, believe 
me, your difficulty is not a disaster, and tact 
can meet it, and I swear you will learn what 
love means before you leave Alsander." 

" Your promises are pretty bold, especially 
that last one, my Poet. However, if you pro- 



94 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

mise me good sport, of course I will stay a 
little longer in Alsander." 

" I have one bag full of promises and one 
full of fulfilments," smiled the old man, " and 
they both weigh pretty well the same. But 
first you have a promise to make to me." 

" Which is?" 

" That you will maintain the most abso- 
lute, the most impenetrable secrecy concern- 
ing what you have seen this afternoon, 
including the very existence of such persons 
as myself and the King of Alsander." 

" A reasonable and not unexpected request. 
Of course I give you my word of honour to 
keep silent. But reveal your next mystery, Sig- 
nore ! " 

" What is a revealed mystery, except for 
the Church ? All I care to let you know is that 
if you prove your mettle you shall be allowed 
to help in the regeneration of Alsander." 

" A political scheme is that it ? But how 
am I to prove my mettle ? r 

" Wait and you will see." 

" Tell me at least," rejoined Norman, " what 
is to be my immediate conduct. How am I to 
make the first step of this sublime journey ? v 

" Return to your lodging, rise, eat, walk, 
sleep, and flirt a little less than usual, and 
await events." 

" Is that all ? " 

" Not quite all. I have another very fanciful 



KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 95 

request to make. Are you what the ancients 
call a good hypocrite, that is to say, an 
accomplished actor ? For there is a delicate 
piece of acting which I would like you to 
perform. I want you by gradual degrees to 
raise a little mystery about yourself. I want 
you to insinuate with a hint here and a 
whisper there that you are a personage, a man 
with a past, a nobleman in disguise, at all 
events not quite what you seem. Let the 
honest folk you dwell with begin to imagine 
that there is some secret about your arrival in 
Alsander." 

" My dear sir, what a very odd idea ! " 

" You will be full of odd ideas in a few 
weeks' time. I only hope that you will suc- 
ceed in this the first of your tasks, and that 
you have not already been too explicit con- 
cerning your origin and identity. Play the lost 
millionaire or the ruined marquis. Become 
quickly a marked man a man at whose ap- 
proach the townsfolk whisper. 

" This is a harlequin's game," said Nor- 
man, indignantly. 

" Well, the world's a ball, and out of shape 
at that: there's no need to be ashamed of 
mummery. If you don't like it leave it: but I 
should be extremely sorry, and you would 
miss the occasion of your life. Come, now ! " 

They passed through the castle gate. The 
sentries appeared to be still asleep, leaning 



96 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

against the archway, their lances propped on 
their drowsy bodies. The castle square was 
deserted as ever. Halfway across the old man 
stopped seized Norman by the lapel of his 
coat and observed, " By the way, you ought 
to give that girl a handsome present ! " 

' What queer jumps you do make in the 
conversation, to be sure ! " exclaimed Norman. 
c When your great and secret scheme has 
enriched me, no doubt I shall make her a very 
magnificent present. But I can't see the im- 
mediate necessity, and at present I am pretty 
short of cash." 

" Never mind the cash. Go to a little shop 
in a back lane opposite the cathedral and ask 
to see fine presents for fine ladies. He buys 
stolen goods, sells cheap, gives unlimited 
credit to anyone who says " The Poet sent me." 

' Why, I have already noticed that little 
shop," cried Norman. " It contains all sorts 
of trash, and the other day I found a few old 
books exposed in the window, and an old 
Amsterdam Petronius among them." 

" Yes. Those pretty old vellum bound clas- 
sics, I should tell you, must be bought with 
caution and bought cheap. They have no 
intrinsic value if you want to sell them again. 
But he has all sorts of treasures ; I can recom- 
mend him to you strongly. By the way, it may 
seem odd of me to ask, but will you excuse me 
a moment ? " 



KNIGHTING OF NORMAN PRICE 97 

" Certainly," said Norman, and the old man 
walked swiftly away from him and hurried 
up a back street. Norman kept wondering 
why his guide was so insistent on the question 
of the present. He then wondered why he had 
gone, and then, as minutes went on, he won- 
dered why he had not returned. He looked up 
the back street. There was no trace of his 
strange companion, who evidently did not 
intend to reappear, and had taken this odd 
way of vanishing. 

" Well," said Norman to himself as he 
paced home pondering on the fantastic events 
of the afternoon, " in this fair city of Alsander 
at least I can pass as sane ! " 



CHAPTER VI 

CONCERNING ISIS AND APHRODITE: 
WITH A DIGRESSION ON THE 
SHOCKING TREATMENT THE LAT- 
TER'S FOLLOWERS RECEIVE FROM 
THE HANDS OF ENGLISH NOVEL- 
ISTS 

I had read books you had not read, 

Yet I was put to shame 
To hear the simple words you said, 

And see your eyes aflame. 

Forty-two Poems 

AND there was Peronella ! 

Seated at the window charmingly dressed 
in white and rose, with the sun on her face 
and neck and naked arms, with light playing 
with those said marvellous arms of hers and 
making all the little downy hairs on them 
sparkle. " Beauty is Truth," says the poet, 
and Norman, looking on her with all the 
passion of a passionate man, longed to 
believe the poet's lie and banish the disap- 
pointments of the mind. There was nothing 
vulgar or half-educated about her beauty 
lips or hands or eyes. Was she not perhaps 
simply a child, a soul asleep, repeating like one 



ISIS AND APHRODITE 99 

in an hypnotic trance the rubbish she had 
been forced to learn? Was she not merely 
waiting for some violent shock of love or life 
to dispel the false personality of the genteel 
young Miss and unveil the true Woman, with 
all the unconquerable nobility of the peasant 
and the curious greatness of the South ? 

Norman sighed as he gazed on the lovely 
girl and immediately proceeded to eat an 
ample meal, washed down with ample wine. 
We have mentioned that he was very hungry. 
He was thirsty, too, and the white wine of 
that country is a good wine, if a little sweet. 
Then he took a book and read and looked at 
his mistress, exchanging some sufficiently 
foolish remarks from time to time. But he was 
worried with the strange events of the fore- 
noon, impatient to meet his strange mentor 
again and not knowing where to find him. Too 
soon also he became troubled by the philo- 
sophical question, May Beauty be stupid? 
and altogether he was not in a mood to be 
absorbed by any book at all. 

Peronella, a few moments later, looking 
up, saw that his eyes had wandered, that the 
little book was on the floor, and that his face 
expressed deep thought. One does not often 
see people thinking in Alsander, and Peron- 
ella wondered if it hurt. Coming to the conclu- 
sion that it must be uncomfortable to wear 
such a face, she got up and went to stand by 

H2 



100 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

Norman's chair. Such a domestic scene has 
many an artist of Holland painted to please 
the quiet burghers of The Hague. Norman 
kissed her somewhat mechanically, and with- 
out that intense devotion and fiery rapture 
to which she was accustomed. 

" What have you been reading that in- 
terests you so much and makes you kiss me 
in that stupid way ? " she cried. 

" It is a little Latin book I brought with me 
from England." 

" In Latin ? What's it all about ? Is it very 
dull?" 

" Sit on my knee and I will tell you all 
about it. No, don't ruffle my hair, but attend 
to lessons. I was reading about a great goddess 
who rose up from the sea, whose robe was so 
black that it shone ..." 

" But I thought she was quite naked." 

c Who ? " 

" The goddess who came out of the 
foam." 

" Why, who has been telling about the 
goddess who rose from the foam ? ' : 

" Father Algio in one of his Lent sermons 
told us a great deal about her." 

Father Algio was an old monk with whom 
Norman had talked once or twice: a gentle 
soul, but with an odd fire lurking about his 
eyes. One realized that if roused by the 
trumpet of the Church he would have marched 



ISIS AND APHRODITE 

like a Crusader to uttermost Taprobane, 
fighting for the Lord. 

" What had he to say about the Lady 
Aphrodite ? " 

" Aphrodite, yes, that was her name. How 
clever you are ! Oh, the priest said that he 
thought the reason why we were so given to 
the sins of the flesh was that we were of the 
old Greek blood, and had never forgotten the 
worship of this lady who came from the sea." 

" What an intelligent priest it is ! Peron- 
ella, you are a true daughter of Aphrodite." 

" Tell me about her, Normano. She was the 
goddess of Love ! ' ! 

" Yes, and she has a son called Cupid and is 
drawn in a chariot by violet-throated doves. 
Also, Peronella, she has a little silver broom, 
with which she drives away the cobwebs from 
a man's soul when he has read too many 
books." 

" And when did she wear the shining 
black ? r 

" ! this book is not about Aphrodite, it 
is about Isis, an Egyptian goddess." 

" Egyptian ? That must be interesting. Was 
she as beautiful as Aphrodite? Tell me all 
about her." 

" There are different sorts of beauty. 
Aphrodite was a graceful, careless and happy 
woman, rather like you to look at, and very 
much like you in character." 



THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" How charming of you to say so ! ' ! 

" While Isis had all Nature to manage, and 
the moon and the sea. She was a terrible 
goddess, with snakes in her hair, and a great 
disc between her breasts. Men loved her none 
the less; she was the spirit of all Nature, and 
required purity and endurance from her 
worshippers." 

" Purity and endurance ! And snakes in her 
hair! Aphrodite must have been far more 
pleasant, especially if she was like me. She was 
the patroness of our city, the Father said; and 
Dr Sforelli wrote to the papers once to say 
that the image of the Virgin in the Cathedral 
Church was a heathen statue that some King 
put up there and that clothes had been made 
for it later. I know that because Father Algio 
was so furious at the time that he preached 
three sermons against the Jews. But why do 
you read such rubbish ? ' ! 

Norman was irritated by the naiveness of 
the remark, and still more irritated with him- 
self for being irritated. 

" What an ass I am, " he said to himself, 
" to talk to a pretty girl about the Classics, 
and what a much larger ass to trouble what 
she thinks!' 5 

Norman had to learn that education makes 
prigs of all of us, whether we will or no. Of 
wise and learned men only the truly great 
can keep their characters free of priggishness, 



ISIS AND APHRODITE 103 

and even then, what of Marcus Aurelius and 
William Wordsworth and John Ruskin ? What 
even of Olympian Goethe ? 

And there she was, shining, shining. 

" You mean," said Norman, " why do I 
read such rubbish when I have you to look 
at?" 

And still Peronella shone. 

" The book of your eyes is the best book," 
said Norman. 

Romance even in her moment could not so 
fool him that he did not wish he could have 
said " the book of your soul." 

Peronella shone, and, by an instinct, shone 
in silence. 

" You are the prettiest girl I have ever 
seen," said Norman. 

And the sun shone on Peronella. 

Then though indeed for a moment more 
Norman heard the voice of caution, it was but 
a voice fading far away. Some arguments 
against caution ran through his mind pom- 
pous self-depreciation and some inverted 
snobbery about " good enough for a grocer 
boy." Then the petty arguments were needed 
no longer: his mind faded and went out, and 
he leapt upon her like a god from Olympus 
on some not reluctant spirit of wood or water. 
He pressed her to him till he felt as if every 
inch of the fiery contact were complete, and 
he forgot whole oceans of civilization in a 



104 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

moment. That is what education is made for, 
some might say, it gives us more to forget and 
more to abandon in crucial moments of love 
or heroism. 

He kissed her all round her burning face. 
He kissed the soft skin behind her ear where 
first he kissed her in the dawn in the best 
and earliest hour of all the golden days. He 
kissed her smooth and naked arms that 
bound his neck like a silver chain. He set 
all the snow of her shoulder afire with 
kisses, and on her mouth he forgot the 
wise advice of Browning and gave her the bee's 
kiss first. 

The maddening sun still shone on Peron- 
ella, on her soft dishevelled robe whence 
gleamed what a man might take for a red 
rosebud; on her dark hair with the hyacin- 
thine shadows where a man might see all the 
stars that shine in a Syrian night on her 
cheek and throat and her silver arms 
but not on her eyes, for, heavy with passion, 
they were all but closed. 

On Norman, too, shone that great and 
primitive Ball of Fire on Norman, as bright 
an Adonis as ever ran riot in a gallant tale. 

But when they paused for breath, as even 
the bravest lovers must, and sat together on 
the little blue divan that graced the barren 
room ; when Peronella's lips were free to speak, 
and Norman's mind was free to meditate 



ISIS AND APHRODITE 105 

if only for a brief, sharp, cruel moment 
how swiftly went the sun behind a cloud ! 

" When will you marry me ? " said Peron- 
ella, " and will you take me to England ? 0, say 
you will take me to England, Normano, and 
when you drive me round in your carriage all 
the world will say, ' That woman cannot be of 
our town; she is the most beautiful woman 
that we have ever seen/ " 

" Darling," said Norman, " let me think of 
this moment, of nothing but this moment, and 
always of this moment," and he kissed her 
again. 

But the sun shone no more on Peronella! 
And her lover was not thinking only of the 
moment. He was thinking of his life. Her 
pretty words pierced him like little darts of 
ice, and all the comminations of the sages 
could not have frightened him more than the 
maiden's innocent speech. 

He saw in his clear-sighted panic that here 
was an end of all bright dreams save this one: 
and he knew how soon this dream would 
fade. He saw Peronella unhappy a Peron- 
ella who could not be afforded a carriage 
sulking behind the counter of the Bon Marche, 
in the rain. He saw how her beauty would fade 
away in England, swiftly, in a few years 
and all in a moment she seemed as she sat 
there to grow old and tired before him, wasting 
away beneath the low, dark northern skies. 



106 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

He judged her character with Minoan 
lightness. He knew she would always be a 
child, always be silly, querulous, unfaithful, 
passionate: he knew, above all, how soon she 
would kill that spark in him that made him 
different from other men that spark the poet 
bade him cherish. And he feared she would 
bore him at breakfast every morning of his 
life. 

Ah! Peronella was good enough nay, a 
prize beyond all dreams! for a Blaindon 
grocer: he knew that. But all the brilliant 
fantasies and conquering ambitions which his 
heart kept so secret that he would not have 
spoken of them to his old friend (are there 
not wild miracles which we all, even the 
sanest of us, hope will happen for our benefit 
and glory ?), all these hidden desires and in- 
sane fancies came beating upon the doors 
of his soul. 

Had he been a southerner himself, of 
course he would have taken the girl and left 
her at his pleasure, the moment the love-glow 
faded and the romance grew stale. Her body 
was his for a kiss, for a smile, at the worst for 
a traitor promise or a roseleaf lie. But he was 
an Englishman and perhaps only English- 
men can fully understand why Norman, for all 
that the thought quivered in his mind, with- 
stood, as we say in our canting phrase, 
temptation. 



ISIS AND APHRODITE 107 

For my part, I think the phrases we use, 
especially in books, are canting enough, and 
the foreigners rightly scorn us. In no tale 
since Tom Jones have we had an honest 
Englishman who makes love because it is 
jolly and because he doesn't care. With what 
a pompous gravity and false seriousness do 
we talk, we English men of letters, of a little 
lovemaking which in France they pass with 
a jest and a smile. Think how our just and 
righteous novelists fulminate against the 
miscreants of their own creation. Think of 
Becky Sharp and her devilish intrigues, of 
Seaforth and his vile deceitfulness. For 
Thackeray, the Irregular Unionist (if so we may 
style those easy livers) is a scourge of high 
society: for Dickens, he is an ungodly scoun- 
drel, a scourge of low society; for Thomas 
Hardy, he is a noble fellow disregarding the 
shackles of convention; while the late George 
Meredith invariably punishes the amorous 
by describing them as intellectual failures. 
To-day Mr Shaw would consider Lovelace 
disreputable owing to his lack of interest in 
social problems, while the pale Nietzscheans 
would worship him with ecstatic gasps as a 
monstrous fine blonde beast. Our popular 
novelists are entirely unaware that such 
horrible scoundrels exist, and our legislators 
will shortly pass a law which will enable all 
offenders against monogamy to be flogged. 



108 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

Their agitation will be called a " revival of 
the old Puritan spirit," and their law will be 
applied with rigour to the lower classes. The 
French, I say, call us filthy hypocrites. 

And yet the accusation, if levelled against 
our race and not only against our writers, is 
not a true one, however plausible. We are 
more restrained than other races, and that 
neither because we are less passionate nor 
because we are more timorous. Our athletic 
youths are purer do not merely say they are 
purer, than the diminutive young men abroad. 
It is really true there is a special kind of 
nobility and generosity in the way our 
gentlemen treat women. There is something 
in our race that makes us different from other 
nations. Call our severe principles a fear of 
convention, an outworn chivalry, if you like; 
you have not accounted for all cases; perhaps 
it is true that an Englishman is more likely 
than any other European to love a woman 
deeply enough to be content with her for 
ever. At all events, it should be remarked how 
those Englishmen who through education or 
travel have most tolerance for the sins of 
others and most opportunity for sinning them- 
selves seldom lose their own traditional 
scruples. And that is why (to come back to our 
hero) Norman, who would never have dreamed 
of blaming Tom Jones for his jolly conduct, and 
who had read with zeal and appreciation 



ISIS AND APHRODITE 109 

novelists of France who held the most 
scandalous theories concerning the unim- 
portance of it all, was nevertheless unable 
to make love to a girl whom he intended to 
desert. Besides, it struck him, the girl had 
never yet yielded to a lover. For him the dilem- 
ma was clear : he must marry this girl or leave 
her, and the thought came over him like that 

One clear nice 

Cool squirt of water o'er the bust, 
The right thing to extinguish lust. 

Now had he accepted this dilemma bravely, 
and fled that very hour from the siren pre- 
sence, he would have had only a flirtation and 
a few kisses to store up against the hour of 
remorse. But he fought shy of drastic mea- 
sures and sought to gain time like a Turkish 
diplomat. Perhaps, too, he wanted to stay in 
Alsander yet a little longer to inquire into the 
mystifications of his tramp guide, and await 
instructions as to the promised " career of 
good works." At all events, there is no doubt 
that as far as the procrastination business 
went, he found suddenly a great inspiration 
in the curious parting command which the 
old poet had given him. He would weave a 
mystery about himself. He would thus not 
only obey the fantastic injunction of the poet, 
but find a most practical means of escape 
from a perilous position. 



110 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

He shook himself free of the twining arms 
roughly and suddenly, as though he had just 
remembered something, and paced up and 
down the room as one lost in thought. 

" Why, what is it ? " said Peronella. She 
was always alarmed at seeing a man medi- 
tate. Such is the profound instinct of women ! 

But Norman, intent now on playing his part 
with thoroughness and efficiency, made no 
answer, and going over to the window frowned 
gloomily and began to mutter to himself. 

" Tell me what is the matter," cried the girl, 
running over to him. " Are you ill ? 9! 

" Ah ! " said Norman. " I wish I could tell 
you what is the matter. There is more the 
matter than you know of, dear, and my heart 
is as heavy as lead." 

" Why, what ever has happened ? " said the 
girl, and her face grew longer still. 

" Forgive me, Peronella. I should not have 
spoken." 

" You say your heart is heavy as lead. Tell 
me what is troubling you ! " 

" Oh ! a little secret trouble, that is all." 

" What trouble can be secret between you 
and me ? ' : 

" Do not speak of it again, dear. Forget it. 
I am sorry I hinted that anything was wrong." 

"You are not deceiving me, Normano ? You 
do not love an English girl ? " 

" No, it is not that." 



ISIS AND APHRODITE 111 

" Then what is it ? You must tell me." 

Norman sat on the table and put his hands 
on the girl's shoulders. 

" Well, then, who do you suppose I am ? " 
he asked, with a half -smile. 

" Why, an Englishman, of course." 

" An Englishman. But what Englishman ? 
And why should I come to Alsander and live in 
Alsander ? " 

" But why not ? Other Englishmen have 
come to Alsander." 

<; Yes, but to buy and sell." 

This crude artifice was quite enough to 
trouble the wits of Peronella. 

" It is very strange," she said, musing, 
" and Cesano said it was strange, but who 
are you, then, by all the Saints ? 9! 

c That I cannot tell you, Peronella." 

" Well, what have you come for if not to 
buy and sell? Besides," added Peronella, 
passionately, "I love you, and that is enough. 
What do I care who you are ? ' ! 

" If your love were deep, perhaps you 
would care who I was." 

The saying of this sentence was the worst 
thing Norman ever did in his life. His con- 
science haunted him for years and never let 
him forget those dozen careless words and their 
cynical hypocrisy. 

Peronella did not understand him, nor 
attempt to, but blazed out in a fury, 



112 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" How dare you come and tell lies and 
pretend to be what you aren't and deceive 
us all ? It's all lies, you don't care for me one 
bit, and I am a little fool ! " cried Peronella, 
on the brink of tears and truth. 

" How have I deceived you ? " said Nor- 
man, lamely. 

" You never told me who you were. You 
come and pretend to be what you are not. You 
make love to me, and now I see you want to 
runaway." 

" You never asked me. I am not running 
away," said Norman, breathlessly, seeing this 
card-house toppling. 

" I ask you now." 

" Look here," said the hypocrite. " Listen 
to me and trust me. No, you know I am not 
lying to you. Look into my eyes and see. I 
ask just one thing of you. Wait three months 
and you shall have an answer and know who 
I am." 

" Don't tell more lies and talk more non- 
sense, species of brute," said the girl, 
savagely. 

" Ah, Peronella, I wish I were talking non- 



sense." 



And the infernal fellow put on an air of 
sorrow and nobility. 

" Wait three months," he repeated, " and 
then see if you want to marry me, or dare to 
want to marry me," he added with magnilo- 



ISIS AND APHRODITE 113 

(juence, thoroughly ashamed of himself but 
too deep in the mire to get free. 

" 0, Normano, what do you mean ? Shall I 
kill you or believe you ? 5! 

" Wait a little while, dear," he said, bending 
over her with a not feigned tenderness. " Wait 
a little while and you shall see." 

Steps were heard on the stair. 

" Here is Cesano," said Peronella, and forth- 
with Cesano came in with an ineffable air of 
being ori his best behaviour. Norman took 
his opportunity and went, and with a bow 
which his fuming rival took for supercilious 
generosity bade them both good-night. 

In the loneliness of his bedroom he fell on 
his bed like a penitent child and cursed him- 
self for a mean scoundrel. As for Peronella, 
the first words she said to Cesano were: 

" There is a mystery about my Englishman, 
I wonder who he is," and thereupon she 
repeated to him the whole conversation. 
True, he had not told her to keep the secret, 
but in any case she could not have kept one. 
It was to be the first thing Cesano was to tell 
Petro the cobbler when he saw him later that 
evening, and the first thing Petro the cobbler 
told Father Algio when he came in for a cup of 
coffee tow r ards midnight, and the first thing 
Father Algio told to all his numerous acquain- 
tance. Norman woke up next morning famous 
and a mystery, and was stared at in the street 

i 



114 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

even more than before. Peronella was perhaps 
pleased to pass for the mistress of a mystery, 
Cesano's hopes revived and all seemed for the 
best in the best of all possible worlds for 
three spacious months to come, at least. So 
thought Norman. 



115 



CHAPTER VII 

THE SOCIETY FOR THE ADVANCE- 
MENT OF ALSANDER 

This impossible story of a mad king and ]a throne 
going begging. 

An anticipated critic. 

The unfortunate indisposition of the old King of 
Bavaria. . . . 

The Prince of Wied is spoken of as a likely candidate 
for the throne of Albania. 

The Daily Papers. 

THERE is a King in a Tragedy of Maeterlinck 
who woefully exclaims, " Wherever I am, 
nothing happens." But the old fellow was 
accustomed to uneventfulness; Norman had 
reason to expect something better of life, and 
the mysterious words of the old poet had led 
him to hope for thrills and sensations. The four 
days succeeding the day of the interview with 
Peronella, described in the last chapter, drew 
blanks in the game of his destiny. On the 
fifth day he was walking moodily about, trying 
to extract amusement from the inquisitive 
glances with which a subtly deceived populace 
already eyed him, when he heard a voice at 
his shoulder saying in good English, " Keep 

12 



116 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

it up," but though he turned quickly he could 
see no one in the street who appeared at all 
guilty of the observation, which might have 
been ventriloquial. 

Another week passed, and the old resolve to 
leave Alsander again took possession of 
Norman's mind. Remorse at his hypocrisy, and 
longings for Peronella, gnawed his heart: while 
he felt that if he did not speedily retire from 
the scene startling harm would come of what 
was really a loveless passion. He decided, how- 
ever, not to leave her without getting her a 
present, which he shrewdly (but I think un- 
justly) suspected would compensate the girl 
for the loss of a lover. And of course he re- 
membered that the old Poet, whom by now he 
had almost given up as a fraud, had given 
special advice in this matter too. Well, he 
could but follow it, and see if there was any- 
thing to be found for Peronella in the little 
dark shop the Poet had recommended, and 
which he himself had discovered almost his 
first day in Alsander. He therefore invited her 
to come with him and choose herself a present. 

When they arrived in front of the little shop 
it looked more fascinating than ever. It had 
evidently been rearranged, and seemed to 
Norman to exhibit more amusing things in its 
narrow frontage than all the other shops in 
Alsander set on end. For it contained snuff- 
boxes, shawls, dirty old silver, tattered bits of 



ADVANCEMENT OF ALSANDER 117 

embroidery, carved walking sticks, some worm- 
eaten books, last century oak settees, Turkish 
zarfs, Hittite cylinders, Chinese saucers full 
of Greek and Roman coins, real stones and 
bits of glass, animals in beaten bronze ware 
from Damascus, very old leather bottles from 
England, some forged Egyptian antiquities, 
some very horrible cameos, some rather 
pretty intaglios, about three quarters of what 
had been a fine Persian rug, and boxes of 
things and cases of things and bales of things 
and trays of things, and all of them finely 
powdered with a most pestilential dust. 

They entered. Peronella, spitting and sneez- 
ing without restraint, exclaimed loudly and 
bitterly (with utter disregard to the feelings 
of the shopkeeper, a pretty, slender, dark- 
eyed, young fellow, who seemed quite out of 
place among his musty surroundings) that 
there was nothing to be found there and what 
he had dragged her there for she couldn't 
imagine when there was that nice new shop 
where they sold wonders from Ulmreich ever 
so much nearer home. Norman, undaunted, 
was preparing to turn the shop upside down 
to show Peronella what marvels were to be 
found there if one only knew, when he was 
surprised to hear the shopkeeper exclaim 
quietly and rapidly in English, " Send her 
away, I want to talk to you." Now this was 
indeed startling, for it was only an accident 



118 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

that had led him to the shop on that par- 
ticular day. However, at all events, Norman, 
eager to fathom the mystery, rose to the occa- 
sion. Perhaps this was the poet's hand and he 
had recommended the shop on purpose. 

" Look here, Peronella," he said, imme- 
diately. " If you don't like the dust (and it is 
dusty here) why don't you go home without 
me ? I'll stay here and find something. Be- 
sides, I would much rather bring you home a 
surprise." 

" But suppose I don't like it," she ob- 
jected. " You told me I might choose, and I'm 
sure there is nothing in this dusty, musty rat 
cupboard of a place." 

" I'll arrange that it can be changed. Or I'll 
get something you do like as well," he added, 
with ridiculous vainglory, for his hundred 
pounds were ebbing faster than the sands of 
time. 

" Very well," said Peronella, half convinced 
and pouting. " If you don't want me, I'll go." 
And more in pique than compliance she left 
him alone with the fine young shopman, who 
was really a remarkably graceful young man, 
and one who obviously had no doubts as to his 
own good looks. Indeed he had ostentatiously 
set them off by wearing the national costume 
of Alsander puffed breeches, pleated silk 
shirt, and a short loose coat with wing-like 
sleeves, of dark blue gracefully lined with gold. 



ADVANCEMENT OF ALSANDER 119 

This costume appeared all the more striking 
to Norman, as he had never seen one before; 
for it is rarely worn by the Alsandrians except 
on ceremonial occasions. 

" What service can I be to you, sir? " said 
Norman. Himself a shopkeeper, he knew the 
value of a gentlemanly treatment, and did not 
allow his curiosity to get the better either of 
his self-control or of his manners. 

" The question," replied the dealer in 
antiques, in a very soft and gentle voice, 
"is not so much what you can do for me as 
what you can do for yourself." 

" And what can I do for myself ? 9! in- 
quired Norman, wondering at the fine but 
feminine beauty of the young man. 

" The question is not really so much what 
you can do for yourself as what you can do for 
Alsander." 

" The question is," retorted Norman, with 
some heat, " exactly how long the pantomime 
season is going to last ? " 

" The reply in general is for as long as 
woman gives birth to child: in particular, for 
as long as the A. A. A. is uncertain of your 
devotion." 

" And what is the A.A.A. ? ' ! 

" It is," replied the shopman, " the Asso- 
ciation for the Advancement of Alsander." 

" I am sure that it is an admirable society." 

"Like all earthly institutions," observed 



120 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

the dandified young shopman, with a sen- 
tentiousness ill befitting his years, " it has its 
defects, but want of precaution is not one of 
them" 

" And where does it meet ? " 

" Here," said the shopman, briefly. 

" And when does it meet ? " 

" Now," was the reply, followed almost 
immediately by a clatter and a crash as if all 
the machinery of a steam-mill had started 
with a jerk. Norman had just time to see the 
shutters going down; then he found himself 
in total darkness. 

" What in Hell do you mean by this ? " he 
cried out, thunderstruck: but the shopman 
gave no answer or other sign of existence, and 
Norman suddenly realized with dismay that 
he was alone and a prisoner. For a moment or 
two he groped and fumbled in the dark. Then 
he remembered his matches. He found three 
and lit them one by one. They cast all sorts of 
curious and flickering shadows from odd- 
shaped objects like crocodile gods and water- 
skins; one by one they went out. Norman was 
only the wiser in as far as the little light had 
lasted long enough for him to find out that the 
end of the shop had no exit and that his 
interloctuor had certainly disappeared, and 
he therefore spared himself the trouble of 
stumbling about in the dark for a means of 
escape. " This is fun," he thought boyishly, 



ADVANCEMENT OF ALSANDER 121 

and sat down on what he had seen to be a 
horribly dusty and cracked Chippendale chair 
to await proceedings. When ten minutes had 
passed he began to scratch his head; after 
twenty minutes the room had grown insuf- 
ferably stifling and the philosophic mood had 
passed: after half-an-hour he had formulated 
a scheme in accordance with which he would 
use the hindquarters of a large brass elephant, 
probably Indian, which he had noticed faintly 
glimmering on a shelf, as a battering ram. 
His idea was that with so heavy an implement 
he could break a hole in the shutters, which 
seemed to have closed automatically, or at 
least by hammering attract the attention of 
some passers by in the street outside. He was 
about to act on this ingenious plan and had 
already grasped the elephant firmly by one 
leg when his ear was attracted by a noise of 
heavy breathing from behind the shop, and a 
fumbling sound which suggested the turning 
of keys. The next instant a sort of panel-door 
opened at the back of the shop, flooding the 
pla,ce with a light that made Norman blink, 
and a butler, who, with his side whiskers, 
livery and portly presence looked so like a 
butler that he positively made Norman gasp, 
said in the most servile and insinuating 
English, " Would you step this way, sir? 5! 

Norman stepped, hoping that a chance had 
come at last of discovering the meaning, if 



122 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

any, of what he now felt sure was a superb 
and intricate joke. He followed the butler- 
like butler down a bare corridor and was 
ushered into a large room, which he judged 
from a symbol AA, which was hung on a bit 
of cardboard on the wall opposite and was the 
first thing that struck his eye, could be 
nothing else than the head-quarters of the 
Alsander Advancement Association. But the 
room, which was neither sumptuous nor sor- 
did, but eminently respectable, was a disap- 
pointment to Norman, and so were the pre- 
sumed Associates, to whom the same adjec- 
tives were applicable. They were sitting at 
the end of the room behind a long table for all 
the world as if they were a board of examiners, 
and were all dressed in badly-cut frock coats. 
In front of each was a sheet of clean foolscap, 
pen, ink, and blotting paper. The young 
shopman sat in the centre in a slightly more 
comfortable chair, radiant in his extravagant 
costume as a parrot among crows ; but Norman 
scanned their faces in vain to find the old Poet 
whom he naturally expected would be present 
on this mysterious occasion. 

" Take a chair, my man, take a chair," said 
a wizened little old fellow, with a fussy, 
irritable voice. 

"Certainly," said Norman, not pleased 
with the style of address, and he seated 
himself opposite the shopman, where the 



ADVANCEMENT OF ALSANDER 123 

pingle unoccupied chair in the room was 
placed. 

" I hear," observed the little old man 
again, but in grave and serious tones, " that 
you are a candidate for the Crown of Al- 
sander." 



124 



CHAPTER VIII 

HOW NORMAN FAILED TO PASS A 
QUALIFYING EXAMINATION FOR 
THE POST OF KING OF ALSANDER, 
AND WAS WHIPPED: TOGETHER 
WITH A DIGRESSION ON THE EX- 
CELLENCE OF WHIPPING 

Les cris ne sont pas des chants. 

Paul Fort 

NORMAN was about to laugh at this unusual 
question when he seemed to catch the eyes of 
the Board of Examiners at once (for he could 
think of them under no other designation). All 
the eyes seemed to be looking at him with such 
peering intentness that he began to believe 
that they were all unintentional and not 
intentional lunatics, and therefore dangerous. 
So he simply bowed. If it is a joke, thought 
Norman, that will be in keeping; if it is not, 
it will be expected of me. And he thought 
himself clever. 

" Very good," said the little man, abruptly. 
" I think, Doctor," he continued, turning to 
a prominent Hebrew on his left, " that the 
preliminary examination should be con- 
ducted by you in person." 



HOW NORMAN FAILED 125 

" I will begin at once. Take off your 
clothes," said the Doctor, addressing the last 
remark to Norman in a tone of command. 

" But really ..." began Norman, in ex- 
postulation. 

" Absolutely necessary, I assure you," con- 
tinued the Doctor. " For the proper exercise 
of monarchical functions nothing, not even 
courtesy, not even common sense, is more 
important than a sound physical condition. 
To judge of that condition it is imperative 
that you should tal$e off your clothes. I may 
add," he continued, not unkindly, " that 
considering your general appearance I do not 
think that you will have much difficulty in 
satisfying the examiners on that score." 

Norman was so puzzled by the evident 
gravity of the heavy-bearded doctor's speech 
and demeanour that he began to believe that 
a certain mad seriousness underlay the whole 
proceedings. It seemed to him unlikely that a 
dozen lunatics possessed of a common mania 
should find such a facility of meeting together 
in solemn assembly, even in Alsander. The 
poet, whom he still believed to be the prime 
instigator of this curious comedy, though 
eccentric, was no madman. So, having rapidly 
summed up in his mind the pros and cons of 
the case, Norman cautiously took off his 
coat. 

However nothing less than complete nudity 



126 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

would satisfy the Doctor, and Norman, with 
growing reluctance, shed garment upon gar- 
ment till, in the words of the Eastern poet, 
" the shining almond came out of his dusky 
shell," and " the petals of the rose lay strewn 
upon the ground." However, at a word from the 
shopman, who seemed in authority, Norman 
was permitted to retain as much clothing as 
would satisfy the by-laws of a very free 
bathing resort. The Doctor then rose, came 
round the table, and, seizing hold of the 
unfortunate, tappet him, pinched him, 
prodded him, poked him, felt his muscles, 
sounded his chest, examined his tongue, blew 
in his ears, slapped his stomach and tried his 
pulse. All this to the intense aggravation of 
his victim. 

But when the Doctor finally commanded 
him to run round the room as he was and 
climb along the rope that dangled from the 
ceiling, the boy succumbed to over-mastering 
indignation. 

" I am not going to stand any more damned 
nonsense from you or anybody else," cried 
Norman. "This joke has gone quite far enough, 
and though it may amuse you vastly to make 
a fool of me I'll knock down the next one of 
you who tries it on." 

The effect of his words was as instan- 
taneous as he could have wished; there could 
be no mistaking the anger that flashed in the 



HOW NORMAN FAILED 127 

eyes of these curious examiners. Even Nor- 
man, in the heat of his excitement, noticed 
that, though he failed to notice that the 
youthful President's face (for the young shop- 
keeper seemed to be President, to judge from 
his central chair) remained unmoved save for 
a slight ocular twinkle. It was the President, 
however, who addressed him: " I am afraid," 
he said, " that we shall have to ask you to 
dress and leave us at once." 

" I won't leave the room until you apolo- 
gize to me, and if you don't apologize I'll 
punch your head." And Norman, all but 
naked as he was, began to bend up and down 
a very decent right arm and seemed well 
capable of executing his threat. 

" You should be more patient, sir," ob- 
served the President, waving towards Norman 
his gold-embroidered sleeve with a conciliating 
smile. " I assure you that it is to your advan- 
tage to obey us, and very much to your dis- 
advantage to be rude. I admit that our 
demands, coming from total strangers, seem 
both impertinent and extravagant, but I 
assure you that they are necessary, and I 
should like to impress you with the earnest- 
ness of this apparently inane procedure. The 
Doctor only desires to see your muscles in 
motion. I assure you, your body is not a 
thing of which you need be ashamed. Should 
you disobey, you will be in serious danger." 



128 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" I don't believe you. You dare not touch 
me. I am an Englishman," retorted Norman, 
refusing to be conciliated. 

" I am afraid," replied the President, ring- 
ing a little electric bell which was under his 
hand, " that we shall have to give you imme- 
diate proof of the earnestness of our intentions 
and our power to cause you a disadvantage." 

At once four guards entered the room, 
whom Norman from their uniform and faces 
recognized to be the very palace guards who 
had let him and the supposed beggar pass 
into the palace the day of their memorable 
visit. Unfortunately for Norman, they wore 
no longer the air of benevolent sleepiness 
which had characterized them on that former 
occasion; they were obviously wide awake and 
attentive to command. 

" Do you still refuse to perform the exercises 
demanded of you ? " inquired the President. 

" Yes," said Norman, stubbornly. 

" Haul him up," said the President quietly, 
but with anger in his eyes. 

Norman found his wrists seized before he 
could make the slightest resistance, and he 
was swung up on to the back of the tallest of 
the guards. 

" Do you refuse also to apologize ? " said the 
Doctor. 

" Yes." 

" Let him go away quietly," said the Presi- 



HOW NORMAN FAILED 129 

dent. " Why should we hurt him ? We cannot 
expect him to understand us." 

" I insist on an apology. I will not leave the 
room without it," said Norman. " As for you, 
you soppy little fool ..." 

His bewilderment rapidly gave place to 
alarm. He wished he had not been quite so 
rude to the President, who, after all, had been 
polite. Still, he hoped he might be simply 
undergoing some form of Test by Verification, 
like the legendary Masonic hot poker. At 
least, I suppose it is legendary. But when from 
the tail of his eye he beheld from his undigni- 
fied perch a horsewhip in the hands of one of 
the guards, he tried to remember the suffer- 
ings of his days in the village school at Blain- 
don, which, after all, were not of such remote 
antiquity. 

He wondered, like the schoolboy, how 
many ? If, that is, he really was to suffer after 
aU. [ 

His apprehensions were confirmed and 
relieved by the President, who exclaimed in a 
wickedly gentle voice, " I'm very sorry, but 
I suppose you must give him a dozen." The 
maniac examiners were quite capable, he had 
felt convinced, of beating him to death, and a 
dozen ? Why, a dozen was about the extent of 
the good old pedagogic punishments, which 
he had endured stolidly in his time, and many 
of them. 



130 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

A new question surged through his mind. 
What was the brawny guard about to aim at ? 
Was the supreme indignity to be conferred 
upon him before all these pompous personages 
to emphasize his unfitness for dignity? Nor- 
man hoped so, for, to tell the truth, he didn't 
care a damn about the dignity, but he thought 
it would hurt less and was more used to it. 
Meantime he had never felt so cold, and the 
rough cloth of the guard who was holding his 
wrists so tightly grated unpleasantly against 
his naked chest. 

His dignity was not damaged. His shoulders 
were. He discovered his old pedagogue to 
have been the mildest and most inefficient 
flagellator in the world. Let us leave him to 
his punishment and philosophize a little. 

Philosophy and the whip? Is there not 
always some subtle connexion ? Has not a 
whipping always meant for us something more 
than a whipping ? Is it not a symbol ? Think of 
this, youthful reader, if you are still in the 
happy days of subjection and possibility, and 
may it comfort you in the hour of trial. The 
Spartans formed their character, the Romans 
ruled the world, with whippings. With little 
whips the Kings of Egypt made the Jews work 
with their hands honest manual toil, to which 
that race no longer much inclines; he built 
his pyramid and flogged a great nation into 
life. But the East, the golden East in the 



HOW NORMAN FAILED 131 

golden days that was the world for whip- 
pings. In other climes and other times, whip- 
ping has been a symbol of degradation; in 
murderous Russia it has been, they say it is, 
something too foul for the philosopher to 
look at. But when there were Caliphs in 
Bagdad, then whipping was the joyous symbol 
of democracy. Are you rich and powerful, the 
Caliph's friend? Tread delicately on those 
rich carpets: the day comes when to put foot 
to the finest Bokhara may be a torment to 
make you howl. Are you a poor pedlar selling 
glasses from a tray ? Repine not at your bare- 
foot treading of the cobbled lanes: it is all 
practice for the soles; you shall fare better 
than your proud neighbour on the day of 
affliction. Quick! Bow your head: put your 
hands in the sleeves of your tattered abba. 
The great Vizier is coming, the Window of 
Heaven, the Tulip of the Garden of Govern- 
ment, the Sun's Moon, the Vizier. And behind 
him, Allah! the blazing luminary of the 
universe itself! Where shall you hide from 
those dazzling rays ? The Caliph comes. Some 
insolent retainer has kicked over all your 
glasses. Your little fortune has gone. No 
longer will you cry: 

" sunset, sunrise, ocean drops my glasses, 
emeralds, rubies, sapphires, my glasses ! " 

Your wife will curse you, your children will 

K2 



132 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

starve; your dreams of a little ease are shat- 
tered with the shining crystals; your fortune 
lies with them prostrate in the dirt. You 
crouch in the doorway. But ho ! what is that ? 
The Vizier's horse has shied, he is kicking, he 
has kicked the Sun of the Universe off his 
saddle. All that splendour is smirching the 
bashful mud! Forgetting yourself, you rush 
to help him; your dirty, horny fingers pick up 
Perfection, careless of sacrilege. You wait and 
tremble, for Perfection is himself again. The 
Vizier is pale. The Monarch gives a sign to the 
blackest of his black negroes. Down comes the 
Tulip of the Garden of Government. The Vizi- 
erial beard is in the dirt; the Sun's Moon's feet 
are all in air and looped into a pole: the blows 
fall, the Tulip howls and you? The Caliph 
has embraced you and made you Vizier on the 
spot. Such is a whipping in the East. 

So much, then, for whipping from the point 
of view of historical geography. It has other 
aspects too vast for mention here. The 
individual aspect, or the whippings inflicted 
on the famous, on Psyche by Venus, on Aris- 
totle by Phyllis, on St Paul by the Romans, 
on Henry Plantagenet by the monks, on 
Milton by his College, on Voltaire by a lackey, 
on Shelley by a schoolmaster. We read of the 
latter that he writhed on the floor not because 
he was hurt but out of shame. Ethereal 
SheUey! 



HOW NORMAN FAILED 133 

Or take the literary aspect. Take the heroes 
of famous books what whacks and thwacks 
they encounter, especially in all books that 
are an epitome of world life. From Apuleius 
to Don Quixote, from Oil Bias to Tom Jones, 
from Candide to Richard Feverel, there is no 
great book without its whipping. 

And there are those who say children should 
not be whipped ! They are right, dear youth- 
ful reader, they are entirely right. It is we 
who should be whipped, we adults, we pom- 
pous people, we who are so ready to torture 
the young and who have quite forgotten the 
bitterness of the torture we inflict. It is we 
who should be whipped, we who dread the 
dentist, we whose waistcoats bulge and 
blossom into gold watch chains. And cri- 
minals ? we flog them still, but only the poor, 
violent, rough fellow who does a bit of 
straightforward business. It is that fat finan- 
cier whose juicy back I want to see streaked 
with red like a rasher of bacon; it is that ape- 
like vestryman whose yells would be music 
to my ears; it is, above all, the proprietor of 
pills that I would strap down to his alliterative 
and appropriate post, the pillory. 

None of the above reflections occurred to 
Norman. His literary knowledge did not help 
him. He seemed to have spent whole years 
being whipped. He felt as if his lungs would 
burst. But the executioner laid on steadily and 



134 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

evenly, till the victim's back looked like a 
sheet of music paper. Then he was abruptly 
let down and writhed for half a minute with 
rapidly decreasing pain. And about this let 
the philosopher say one word more. Whipping 
is not strictly torture. It does not deform. It 
leaves no ill effects. And therefore many a 
parent who would shudder to use rack or thumb- 
screw to our children, think nothing of whip- 
ping them. But it need not hurt much less. 

Norman, in absolute silence, put on his 
clothes. The examiners meanwhile filed out 
of the hall; the young shopman-president 
alone remained. For a mad moment Norman 
thought he saw tears in the President's eyes 
and pity in his face; but his own vision was 
dim, and certainly it seemed improbable that 
the brute who had ordered the whipping 
should be affected thereby to tears. When 
Norman was dressed the President said, 
" Follow me, I will let you out." Norman 
obeyed silently. They went alone together 
into the little shop. The boy had already 
begun to plot revenge, and now thought he 
saw his opportunity. Calculating the moment 
and the distance, he suddenly sprang like a 
tiger on the President. His effort was attended 
by no success. He found himself lying on the 
floor as swiftly as a skater who has tripped on 
a stone. 

" Do you think I was not prepared ? " said 



HOW NORMAN FAILED 135 

the President, smiling, as Norman picked 
himself up. And somehow, for all that his back 
was still aching, the charm and beauty of the 
young man, his soft voice and his insinuating 
smile, changed Norman's wrath into a sort of 
shame. 

" So that's all I'm to get for coming with 
you," said Norman, like a rueful schoolboy. 
" You've forgotten even the present suitable 
for a lady." 

" You're a wonderful person," muttered 
the President. " It's a pity we had to reject 
you." And opening a drawer he drew out a 
very beautiful jewelled clasp. 

Norman muttered, " How much ? " and 
felt in his pocket. He knew the receipts of 
Price's Bon Marche would not have paid for 
it in fifty years if the stones were real. 

" You have earned it this time," said the 
President, " and please not to take me for a 
shopkeeper again," and, opening the door 
into the street, he waited for Norman to go 
out. The boy hesitated. 

" Tell me, to whom does all this belong ? " 
he asked, voicing questions that troubled his 
mind. " And where is the Old Poet ? And why 
did he choose me as a subject for his unplea- 
sant jokes ? " 

" Good evening," said the President, 
pointedly. " I have nothing further to say to 
you but this, that if you say one word, one 



136 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

little word, to a soul of what has happened 
to-night there are worse things awaiting for 
you than whipping." And with these ominous 
words he closed the door and shut Norman 
out into the street. 

" This comes," said Norman, bitterly, " of 
following the advice of poets ! " 



137 

CHAPTER IX 

THE CONSUL 

Again in the mist and shadow of sleep 
He saw his native land. 

THE hero of this and all our adventures, feel- 
ing unheroic and disinclined for further traffic 
with his fellows, did not proceed to the board 
of the Widow Prasko, or to the no less hospit- 
able embrace of her lovely daughter, but 
nursed revenge and a sore back by a walk 
on the walls. The path along the summit 
of these old fortifications is broad and 
smooth: it commands sea, mountains, town 
and all four corners of the heavens; many 
lovers, dreamers and successful suicides have 
passed that way. Yet surely it would need 
more than the vivid recollection of a sound 
thrashing to make a man leave such a pro- 
spect as that wall affords, especially westward, 
to the mountains and the setting sun. So 
Norman walked along the walls and not off 
them. 

How to attain satisfaction ? Whom to seek 
in this dilemma ? How to be revenged and not 
ridiculed? How, above all, to get level with 
those lunatics without again being stripped 



138 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

and whipped like a schoolboy or enduring a 
worse thing, according to the strange young 
President's threat ? What was the meaning of 
it, the sense of it, the clue to this mysterious 
and painful practical joke ? Where, above all, 
was that ancient scoundrel of a poet and in 
what disguise, and why was he not present at 
the scene? Had the old curiosity shop been 
invented from the very beginning simply to 
attract him? How could they have known 
he would take the Poet's hint and look there 
for the present ? How was it they were all pre- 
pared for him when he came? And, finally, 
what was the real value of the handsome 
buckle which he was to give Peronella? He 
pulled it out of his pocket: if the stones were 
real, and they looked it, he judged it to be 
worth a fabulous sum. For a moment he 
thought it might all have been a plot of 
Cesano's to befool him. But common sense 
soon rejected that theory: so artistic and 
elaborate a practical joke was far beyond the 
conception of that thin-brained cavalier. 
Norman walked twice round the walls in 
hopeless bewilderment, and longed to find a 
trusty soul to whom he could impart the 
whole affair. Then, as for the third time he 
faced the East, the sun of inspiration blazed 
full on the fields of his intellect. 

Visions of Britain's might awake to pro- 
tect her humblest subject rolled across his 



THE CONSUL 139 

mind; of Dreadnoughts blackening the hori- 
izon, of a ten minutes' bombardment, of being 
hauled from prison by merry bluejackets 
pouring brandy down his throat, of shaking 
hands with a clean-shaven Admiral, of a 
protectorate over Alsander, and the immediate 
repaving of the roads and reconstruction of 
the sewers. 

Was there no British Consulate in Al- 
sander ? 

Comforted by a resolve to appeal to the 
might of Britain, he returned at once to the 
board of the Widow Prasko and the no less 
hospitable arms of her charming daughter. 
They had been quite anxious about him. 

" And where is it ? " was the girl's first 
question. 

He pulled out the exquisite toy, and 
Peronella cooed with delight. 

ic My dear Peronella, it is far, far too good for 
you," said her mother, beaming with osten- 
sible gratification, and burning to know 
whether any of the stones could possibly not 
be paste. 

" Did you really find that in that poky 
little shop ? " said Peronella. . 

" Oh, yes," said Norman. " It is a wonderful 
place, if you really only knew it." 

" And look at that pattern round the bor- 
der," said the observant widow. " How 
nicely it's worked, and so small." 



140 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

"It is indeed," said the boy, examining it 
for the first time and turning a little pale. 

This was the pattern: wtf : and it re- 
minded him unpleasantly of the symbol he had 
seen that afternoon. 

However, Norman, strong in his new im- 
perial faith, went to his room, nearly cricked 
his neck examining the stripes in the mirror 
to see if they were still there and in good order 
for exhibition, turned in and slept. 

Rising betimes the next morning he set 
out upon his quest. It was a long one, and 
the said new-born faith in the omnipotence 
of the British flag underwent a severe trial 
during this voyage of exploration, for some 
people seemed never to have heard of " Bri- 
tish " and some never to have heard of 
" Consulate." Those who understood the 
meaning of these magic words in general 
failed to illuminate him in particular. Peron- 
ella and her mother belonged to this latter 
category, and so did most of the people he 
met in the street. At last he was informed in 
a draper's shop that it was down in a street 
off the Palace square. He arrived at the house 
indicated after a diligent and toilsome search 
and found it to let and uninhabited. He spent 
another half-hour scouring the cafes for the 
caretaker. The caretaker, having been plied 
with many drinks, directed him to a street 
off the Cathedral square at the other end of 



THE CONSUL 141 

the town. Having arrived there, he discovered 
the street and the number. He found himself 
in front of a preposterously tall house in a 
state of violent ruin, which appeared about 
to fall on his head. It bore no outward con- 
sular sign at first glance, but by standing well 
back on the opposite side of the narrow street 
and craning his neck Norman could just 
discern what might be a coat-of-arms above 
a window on the top floor. He began the 
ascent of a staircase which deserved all the 
epithets usually applied to such staircases. He 
discovered during the long and intricate ascent 
that the house, or rather tower, contained a 
singular variety of inmates. On the ground 
floor was a shop where an extremely aged man 
with large spectacles was carefully affixing 
small bits of gold braid to form one of the 
gorgeous patterns which adorn the festal 
dress of Alsandrian beauty. The first floor was 
devoted to the offices of an insurance company, 
which Norman hoped had insured its own 
premises. On the second floor a photographer 
exhibited the terrifying results of his art. The 
contents of the third floor were to be judged 
from a show-case fixed on the wall in which 
whole mouthf uls of false teeth were symmetri- 
cally arranged. But the entrance to the fourth 
floor was guarded by a portal on which, by the 
aid of a match, Norman discovered bell-push 
and the gratifying legend, "British Consulate." 



142 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

The door opened mechanically. " A very 
advanced door," thought Norman as he 
stepped in, " for this locality." He found him- 
self in a small and neat office, at the first 
glance not remarkable. Afterwards he noticed, 
to his surprise, that it was full of contrivances, 
such as wires and switches and taps some- 
thing between a railway signal-box and the 
manager's bureau in a telephone exchange. 
Its only occupant was a thin man, with 
ruffled, mud-coloured hair, who was rattling 
on a typewriter with as much vigour as an 
amateur pianist thumping the presto of the 
" Moonlight." 

" What do you want ? " said the typist- 
clerk, very rapidly and sharply, in the tone of 
a vixenish and virtuous housewife accosted by 
blundering vice in a dark street. 

" I should like to see the Consul," replied 
Norman. 

" Why ? " said the clerk, clicking on a new 
line and rattling off again. 

" Even the British Consulate has gone mad 
in Alsander," thought Norman, in despair. 
" Or does he mean to be rude ? 9! 

" I have some urgent private affairs to dis- 
cuss," he said. 

" Passport ? " urged the clerk. 

" I'm afraid I haven't got one," said Nor- 
man. 

" Name ? " insisted the clerk. 



THE CONSUL 143 

" Price," snapped Norman, thankful it was 
monosyllabic. 

The clerk seized a table telephone with one 
hand, while he still fumbled the keys with the 
other. 

" Price private no passport," he shouted 
into the vulcanite ear. 

" I must have come to the American Con- 
sulate by mistake," thought Norman, amazed 
at this un-British efficiency. 

" In ! " roared a voice into the telephone. 

Norman could clearly hear it; it came from 
the next room. 

The clerk pushed a button, the inner door 
opened, and Norman found himself in the 
presence of H.B.M. Consul,* Alsander. 

The appearance of the Consul and his 
apartment, although peculiar, was the reverse 
of terrifying, as Norman was glad to find, after 
the mechanical horrors of the clerk's abode. 
In fact, it had hardly the appearance of a 
office at all. It was true the Consul was sitting 
at a large desk and wearing a very smart 
frockcoat, and that on the desk in con- 
spicuous positions were volumes labelled 
Foreign Office Year Book, Circulars, Trade 
Reports, Miscellaneous, Shipping, Marriage 

* I should perhaps mention that the Consul of Alsander 
bears not the slightest resemblance to any Consul in 
the Levant, Alsander being of course a much coveted 
retiring post in the General Consular Service. 



144 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

Register, etc. But the walls of the room 
presented a curiously unofficial appearance. 
They were papered with a thick-looking dull 
black paper, and ornamented with designs 
in black and white by Aubrey Beardsley, 
The carpet was a dull purple, indeed the room 
was in such harmony (except for the vivid 
letter-box red of the Foreign Office Year Book) 
that Norman felt his light-coloured waistcoat 
and pink cheeks to be unpardonable. The 
Consul himself was dressed with such a subtle 
lack of ostentation and was himself of such 
unostentatious appearance that Norman could 
not for a whole second discover him at all. 
At length he made out that the official had 
long drooping whiskers and was smoking a 
calabash and writing with his left hand, his 
right being apparently paralysed. 

" Good morning," he said to Norman, in 
a very cheerful voice, rising to receive him. 

" Forgive my left," he continued, cordially, 
as he extended that member. " A little acci- 
dent, you know, Bulgarian bomb at Monastir, 
in the old days before the war. Compensation, 
you know. Well, then. However, there we are. 
Sit down. Take a chair. Or fill a pipe." 

" I am so sorry to take up your time," said 
Norman, settling down in an all-black arm- 
chair and reaching out for a match. 

" My dear sir," said the Consul. " I am de- 
lighted to see you. I may tell you I have been 



THE CONSUL 145 

Consul in Alsander for two years and this 
is the first time I have received a visit in my 
official capacity. Have you " his voice sunk 
into an expectative whisper " have you a 
passport, signed and in order ? " 

" I am very much afraid," said Norman, " I 
neglected to get one." 

" That is unfortunate, most unfortunate. 
But " here his voice sunk to a guilty whisper 
" I might give you one. At all events, I 
assure you I am defighted to see you. Alsander 
is very slow, very slow, indeed." 

" But you must be very busy," hazarded 
Norman. " I have never seen anyone so busy 
as your clerk." 

" Ah, my dear sir, we must keep up ap- 
pearances, you know. I let him think that I 
never have a moment to spare. I may tell 
you that I have been here two years and have 
not written an official letter since the day I 
announced my arrival. Such a change from 
Pemambuco, my previous post. There I never 
had a minute ! " 

" But he's typing like mad," said Norman, 
surprised, and quite unable to rid himself of 
the impression of the furious energy which 
had seemed to him to pervade the outer 
office. 

A faint smile suffused the countenance of 
the Consul as he explained. 

" Oh, I keep him employed, copying scraps 

L 



146 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

of old blue books, you know, and that sort of 
thing. Might be useful some day." 
c You must find life monotonous." 

" Ah, yes. Such a change from Pernam- 
buco. No casino, no theatre. The theatre at 
Pernambuco was delightful. This, you know, 
is one of our quietest posts. Even Archangel, 
where I was Vice-Consul twenty-three years 
ago, was a lot more lively. But I do not com- 
plain. The climate is good, the salary tolerable 
poll kala, as I learnt to say in Patras." 

6 You have travelled, sir," said Norman, 
politely. 

" Oh, one knocks about a bit and sees 
things in the Service. Hallo ! " 

The last ejaculation was not addressed to 
Norman, but to the telephone, whose bell was 
ringing violently. 

" Let him wait," said the Consul. 

" Perhaps," hazarded Norman, " if you 
are busy this morning I had better tell my 
story at once." 

" Certainly. But you need not hurry at all. 
It's only Dr Sf orelli come for his game of chess. 
You know him perhaps ? You have heard of 
him only ? . . . Yes, the report was correct; he 
is one of the ablest men in Alsander. His 
father's name was Cohen, by the way." 

" Cohen Sf orelli ? " inquired Norman. 

" Just Cohen," said the Consul. " Are you 
an Anti-Semite ? " 



THE CONSUL 147 

" I never thought about it," said Norman, 
determined that he would begin his tale at all 
costs. " But I am Anti-Alsandrian at present." 

" Been trying to sell something ? Hallo, 
there! Let him wait. Only Olivarbo. You 
know Count Olivarbo? For an Alsandrian, a 
man of some ability." 

" I hope he has not rung you up on urgent 
business." 

"Oh, dear no. I am teaching him golf. 
Of course, I am a little handicapped " he 
glanced pathetically at his limp member 
" but the rules and the style, you know, and 
so on." 

" Well, sir, if you don't mind, my business 
is rather serious, and I should like to come 
straight to the point. And to begin with, I 
should like to ask you whether you have 
heard of the Alsander Advancement Associa- 
tion." 

" Never. Is it a co-operative store ? " 

" No, it purports to be a secret society, for 
the object well, I don't know for what 
object." 

" Of advancing Alsander ? ' ! 

" I suppose so. But it seems to be really a 
conspirators' club to play bad practical jokes 
on innocent strangers. I was entrapped by one 
of its members." 

" This is very interesting, very interesting, 
indeed. I may have to take a note of this. 

L2 



148 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

Hallo. Who's that ? My dear Cocasso, I really 
can't this afternoon. I am being consulted 
on important business. Look up Cassolis, he 
plays. My dear sir " this to Norman " you 
were entrapped ? " 

" I was entrapped. The society sat in state 
and pretended to examine me for the position 
of King of Alsander." 

" Well, well, why not ? I was examined to 
become Vice-Consul. We must all be examined, 
you know." 

" Yes, but that was not all. I was stripped 
and mauled about by a fool who pretended 
to be a doctor." 

" Stripped ? Dear me ! Stripped naked ? " 

" Yes, but worse was in store for me. 
Because I demanded an apology for their non- 
sense, I was beaten." 

" Beaten ? Dear me ! Beaten with a stick ? 
Gracious heavens! Very extraordinary! I 
must make a note of that. And what would 
you like me to do ? v 

" Why, what do you usually do when a 
British subject is stripped and beaten by a 
lot of dirty Dagoes ? " 

" I do not remember such an occurrence; 
so I have no precedent for dealing with this 
case. British subjects do not usually expose 
themselves, you see, to such odd adventures." 

" Do understand that it is serious, sir," 
pursued Norman, whose fury had been gra- 



THE CONSUL 149 

dually mounting in face of this official apathy. 
" What's the good of being an Englishman 
if one can't travel unmolested? What's the 
good of all those Dreadnoughts? What are 
they wasting coal in the North Sea for ? Why 
don't they come here ? ' ! 

" I must remind you," said the Consul, 
severely, " that you have no passport. I 
cannot possibly send for the Fleet if you have 
no passport. For all I know you might be 
Siamese." 

" Do I look it? " cried Norman, in dismay. 

" Perhaps there are light-haired Siamese 
mountaineers who have learnt English from 
Indian friends. c Quien Sabe ? ' as we said at 
Barcelona." 

44 It is a shame, sir you are fooling me ! " 
Norman's temper had quite gone. 

" Have you only just found that out?" 
said the Consul, his eyes twinkling. 

" I shall write to the Times ," cried Norman, 
rising from his chair to leave. 

" My brother," said the Consul, with a 
smile, " edits the correspondence columns 
of that august journal. Of course, he will print 
your letter. But he will also print " here the 
Consul rose and his tone grew severer still 
" a note to say that I treated you with all 
civility although you had no passport and no 
letter of introduction, and that you deceived me 
to iny certain knowledge by telling half-truths. ' ' 



150 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" Half-truths ! " exclaimed Norman. 

" What about the jewelled buckle that was 
presented to you by the society ? " 
4 Why, I had forgotten about it." 

" And a much more serious matter what 
about the injunction to silence which was laid 
on you by the President ? " 

" You did not let me finish my story. What do 
you know about the jewelled buckle ? How do 
you know there was an injunction to silence ? '' 

" That injunction to silence you had better 
have obeyed, sir. However, you may rely 
on my discretion. If you insist on demanding 
reparation, I am bound to state your case 
before higher authorities, but I warn you you 
will get none, and you will endanger your 
life and perhaps mine. The present made to 
you was an ample reparation for your tem- 
porary inconvenience. I will give you a few 
minutes to consider the matter." 

Norman sat down, bewildered. Before he 
could think of anything the telephone bell 
rang again. 

" Come in," called the Consul. Norman rose 
politely as the newcomer entered. 

" Mr Norman Price. Signor Arnolfo," said 
the Consul, introducing them. 

Norman was about to shake hands, but his 
hand fell. Signor Arnolfo, a young man in the 
national costume, was the handsome President 
himself ! 



151 



CHAPTER X 

CONTAINS THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 

AND A DEBATE ON THE ADVANTAGES 

OF MURDER 

THERE was a fine contrast between the two 
boys as they stood confronting each other. 
They were both young, handsome, beardless. 
But Norman was square, strong jawed, with 
a hint of the workman about him; his hair 
almost silver, his blue eyes and fair com- 
plexion as British as could be. There was 
little to suggest anything more interesting than 
the handsome athlete about him save a fine, 
curious expression of the mouth, a bold fore- 
head, and perhaps an exceptional regularity 
and symmetry of the features. 

Arnolfo was in complete contrast: his whole 
body, though not well set off by the gorgeous 
but loose costume, seemed curiously slim and 
supple: his smooth, dark face had the spiritual 
beauty of the artist. No lack of determination 
in it, however, bijt the power was in the eyes 
rather than the chin, which was as softly 
rounded as a woman's. Of these eyes we can 
say but little; they were large dark eyes, but 
no poet can sing or painters paint the charms 



152 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

of the soul's windows. Even more beautiful 
was the mouth, on which hovered a smile. But 
though in the eyes of Arnolfo there shone a 
humorous sympathy, though his smile faded 
with obvious disappointment when Norman 
drew back his hand, Norman in his fury saw 
nothing but an insolent boy who had outraged 
him bitterly. Scorning with a flash of chivalry 
to use his fist on so frail a person, he neverthe- 
less could not help administering to Arnolfo 
there and then a ringing smack on the cheek. 

" How dare you, sir, commit an outrage on 
one of my friends in my presence ? " The 
Consul's voice rang out severe and incisive. 

" One of your friends ! " cried Norman, 
almost hysterical with wrath. " What business 
has a British Consul with friends who outrage 
British subjects? I'd give you one, too," he 
added, savagely, " if it wasn't for your ..." 

"It is most impolite of you, sir," said the 
Consul, interrupting him and leaning across 
his desk, " to make any reference to the 
unfortunate state of my arm, due as it is, and 
as I have already hinted, to excessive zeal 
in the public service. Also, I may inform 
you, that you are quite welcome to go for me 
if you like. Your behaviour is uniformly gross. 
As for my infirmity, take that ! " 
r And he dealt Norman across his desk a 
blow with the supposed withered arm which 
sent him reeling against the wall. Norman 



THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 153 

was about to reply to this onslaught in kind 
when Arnolfo interposed himself between 
them, his cheek still red from the blow. 

" Remember," he said to the Consul, " he 
cannot understand and he has had a great deal 
to endure. I would think less of him if he had 
not hit me. Sir, I accept your blow. Will you 
cry quits with me and be friends ? ' 

" You accept my blow indeed, you coward ! 
I have given you a very good clout on the 
head. Why don't you challenge me to a duel 
like a man ? Surely that is the custom every- 
where outside England ? " 

" I will make you any reparation you like, 
but I will not fight you. Strange as it may seem, 
I hope that some day you may become my 
friend." 

" Friend, indeed ! You seem to credit me 
with outrageous generosity. If you are too 
frightened to fight, you must at least let me 
in my turn order you a sound thrashing. 
Then I can meet you on equal terms." 

" Believe me, Signor Norman, I would do 
that for your friendship," said Arnolfo, and, 
turning to the Consul, he added, " Will you 
not leave me with this Englishman a minute ?" 

" I entreat you, Signor Arnolfo, you should 
not trust yourself to such a man. He is rude, 
unmannerly, and dangerous, and not at all 
likely to appreciate the refinement of your 
sentiments." 



154 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" I entreat you, do what I ask," said the 
young man, and as the Consul still seemed 
reluctant, he added in a whisper, " I command 
you." Upon this the Consul, bowing to 
Arnolf o, left them alone. 

" Now, Signor Norman," began Arnolf o, 
" try and put aside for a moment your 
righteous and natural indignation. I have 
come on purpose to see you. I hastened here 
as soon as I was informed of your arrival. I 
want you to forgive me. I want you to be my 
friend. But, most of all, I want you to believe 
me to be sincere." 

" How are you going to prove your sin- 
cerity to me this time ? " inquired Norman. 
" By more subtle torture than beating or by 
downright murder? You and your friends 
have inflicted on me the most shameful de- 
gradation, and now you implore forgiveness 
and talk of sincerity. Are you, is this city, is 
the whole world, mad ? Why should you want 
to talk to me about sincerity ? Would it not 
be more to the point to discuss the figure of my 
damages ? ' ! 

" Never be ashamed of your vulgarity, Mr 
Price," said the young man, without a trace 
of sarcasm in his gentle voice. " It gives you 
just that vitality which I have not got. It is 
exactly the absence of vulgarity from my 
character that makes me unfit to rule this 
kingdom alone." 



THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 155 

" You seem to have no mean opinion of 

lyourself. I know you only as a shopkeeper and 

las a conspirator. I agree with you that you 

lare unfit to rule even this kingdom. Take at 

lleast the trouble to inform me who you are." 

* Will you let me tell my story ? " 

;< I have no interest in your story. But 
Ion condition that you have no further designs 
I against me, I will listen to your narrative, 
[provided it is short." 

" Sir ! " exclaimed Arnolfo, with a flash of 
i passionate anger in his beautiful dark eyes, 
the genuineness of which not even Norman 
could doubt, but always speaking in the same 
gentle tone, " I have had enough of your 
British and barbarous sulkiness. I am the 
proudest man in Alsander, and I have let 
you strike me in the face. But I will not let 
you insult me further. Sit in that chair and 
listen to what I have to tell you. Remember 
now as then, here, as in the secret room of the 
conspirators, you are utterly in my power." 

Norman, curiously stilled by these words, 
sank into the great armchair in silence. The 
black walls, the tortured pictures, the incense 
fragrance of the strange room had the 
Consul journeyed to China also ? hypnotized 
his will. He felt tired and careless. He took 
almost a pleasure in obeying the elegant and 
frail young man, whose voice was as low as the 
music of distant waves. 



156 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

," I," began Arnolfo, " am a nobleman of 
Alsander, to which I returned about a year 
ago, after an absence of many years in many 
civilized lands, especially in Ulmreich. My 
father is virtual ruler of the Court of the 
orphan Princess lanthe, who (presuming that 
the present occupant of the throne dies in- 
curably insane and childless) should one day 
be Queen of Alsander. My father, the Duke 
Arnolfo, as any peasant boy will tell you, is 
the guardian of the Princess. It was his plan 
that the Princess should be educated in Ulm- 
reich, among a sober and wise people, where 
every facility would be obtainable to cultivate 
her mind and refine her intelligence. I will 
confess to you that it was his dream to seat a 
noble and wise woman on the throne of 
Alsander, even, if necessary, before the death, 
or at all events before the natural death, of 
King Andrea. Well he knows the miserable 
state of this little kingdom under the idle, 
foolish and cunning rule of old Count Vorza, 
and many a time he has only been restrained 
from riding into Alsander at the head of a 
handful of retainers and wresting the regency 
from Vorza by the thought of his young 
charge whose majority he, an unfortunate 
exile, has devoutly awaited. 

" But, alas ! nothing is likely to come of all 
his dreams. You may have heard flimsy 
rumours here to the effect that Princess lanthe 



THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 157 

is as mad as her cousin. It is not quite true 
that she is mad. She is stubborn and un- 
reasonable, and she is almost stupid. She 
grasps nothing, despite the most careful 
education that a woman could possibly 
receive. She has fits of piety and fits of 
melancholy. If that were all, married to a 
good husband, she might do passably well; 
but she has one supreme defect which makes 
her impossible as a queen. She is so ugly that 
it would be hard to find a man who would not 
be ashamed to be even so much as styled her 
husband, though the bribe were a crown. 

" Carefully guarded as our little Court is, 
some rumours of the truth have come to 
Alsander, and at present Vorza seems to the 
popular estimation to be likely to go on ruling 
for ever. After all, the people are not unhappy: 
it is so many years since they have enjoyed 
the advantages of uncorrupt and energetic 
government they do not know that they are 
missing anything. But my father and I love 
Alsander with a burning passion; we dreamt 
of Florence, of Athens, of Venice, of the great 
deeds that have been performed by little 
States; and night after night we used to dis- 
cuss what could be done with Alsander. We 
considered a republic, but a republic, even 
a small one, needs a dictator to tide over its 
growing pains and also a standard of educa- 
tion, which Alsandrians by no means possess. 



158 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

As for me, I knew myself to be incapable of 
governing Alsander alone, even had it been 
possible for me to acquire the supreme power 
by my father's influence." 

(Norman, who had begun to listen with 
interest to the young man, and who had 
thought that he was getting at the truth at 
last, noted in his mind the weakness of the 
last remark coming from so self-confident a 
young man. However, he did not interrupt, and 
Arnolfo went on.) 

" It was decided finally that I should jour- 
ney alone to Alsander, spy out the land, and 
attempt to form a conspiracy. It was a project 
not without danger for myself. Vorza knows 
that the Court of Princess lanthe is against 
him; my father warned me almost with tears 
against his treachery, and I could hardly 
persuade him to let me go. But once arrived 
in Alsander I put on so brave an outward show, 
played with such gaiety the part of an elegant 
young man bent on nothing but pleasure, that 
the suspicions of that crafty old fox were 
lulled with comparative ease. Cunning men 
seldom penetrate the cunning of others, 
especially the cunning of such others as have 
naturally no cunning in their nature, but are 
only playing a cunning part. 

" In the meanwhile I made firm and loyal 
friends of all the really able or notable men 
in Alsander, to whom I carried letters of re- 



THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 159 

commendation from my father. I found them 
surprisingly ready and willing to plot with 
me some change of government but what 
change? I had deliberated long and in vain 
with several excellent people, when one day 
I was taken aside by Dr Sforelli, the King's 
physician, the very doctor to whose searching 
examination you so strongly objected the 
other day. He told me that there was a plot 
in the plot which now he would reveal. c Your 
father,' he said, c has partly deceived you. We 
are not groping in the dark; we have a plan 
already formed, a plan fantastic and wild, 
but still a plan; and we have cherished that 
plan for years. It was necessary that we 
should be assured of your discretion and 
ability before inaugurating our conspiracy; 
yet we postponed our action in order to 
await your intelligent co-operation, and, 
above all, in order to fulfil your father's 
dearest wish, which was that you should in 
person preside over the work of the regenera- 
tion of Alsander. Our plot is based on a very 
startling and curious fact, which is this that 
practically from and including the day of his 
coronation not a soul in Alsander, not even 
Vorza, who is afraid of lunatics has set eyes 
on King Andrea.' 

ic I expressed my astonishment. 
4 c This extraordinary state of affairs, 
though based originally on pure chance, is by 



160 THE KING OP ALSANDER 

no means accidental/ explained Sforelli, con- 
tinuing. * It was all arranged between your 
father and myself years ago. It had been 
actually necessary to seclude the King for a 
time, and your father, seized by a sudden and 
wonderful inspiration, gave me the word to 
convert the temporary seclusion into a per- 
manent one.' 

" c That is an extraordinary state of af- 
fairs,' I remarked, ' but I do not see how it 
will help in the regeneration of Alsander.' 

" ' Think ! ' said the Doctor, with his queer 
Jewish smile, and then the whole scheme 
dawned on me." 

" Ah," said Norman, who had forgotten all 
his animosity in his interest in this amazing 
tale. " That was a superb idea. Of course, if 
no one has ever seen the King, you can substi- 
tute anyone you like and pretend the madness 
has been cured, without any revolution, 
bloodshed or fuss." 

" Precisely, sir; but not quite anyone we 
like. Anyone outside Alsander. Anyone the 
people do not know. Anyone who is worth 
substituting. We had to find a ruler, and we 
set seriously about the task of discovering 
one. The Doctor had sent friends of his as 
emissaries to every land, like the Oriental 
Kings who desired husbands for their daugh- 
ters and heirs for their crowns, to find a man 
fit to rule the kingdom. But our emissaries 



THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 161 

had a more difficult task than those of the 
Oriental potentates. They had first of all 
to find a man suitable and though all that 
is needed, after all, is a certain amount of 
honesty, energy and intelligence, for it's not so 
hard to manage a little State like ours, yet we 
soon discovered that most honest, intelligent 
and energetic men were, unfortunately for our 
purpose, already installed in worldly positions 
so enviable that they were not likely to leave 
them for a chance of ruling a miserable country 
and an off-chance of being killed. Besides, the 
prospective candidates for royalty could not 
be trusted with the secret. The honest men 
might come to think it consistent with 
their honesty to betray the scheme. The 
proposed King would have to be tempted to 
Alsander, and, once there, most cautiously 
treated. And the emissaries the Doctor could 
send were very few, and poor. 

" There was only one of them who was 
sanguine of success. He was an old man, an 
English poet. ..." 

" Ah ! " interjaculated Norman. 

" ... He had lived for many years, appa- 
rently without means of subsistence, in a bro- 
ken attic, where he said he was composing a 
great Ode to the Sun. Sforelli, it seems, knew 
the old man well, arid often declared to in- 
credulous company that the supposed old 
imbecile was the most intelligent man in 

M 



162 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

Alsander and perhaps in England. The Old 
Poet, as I said, swore he would succeed." 

" Ah ! " said Norman, " he has failed ! " 

" He has not failed," said Arnolfo, rising 
and laying his hands on Norman's shoulder. 
" He found you selling biscuits in an English 
village, and he swears that his feet were pulled 
to the village against his will at least seven 
miles on a hot summer afternoon, and all by 
the power of the Jinn ! And now, though we 
feigned to reject you yesterday, you are the 
man we are going to make Bang of Alsander. 
And if we have to torture you into acceptance, 
King of Alsander you shall be." 

Gently pronouncing the strange threat, the 
boy stood over Norman and looked down 
into his face and smiled. The world went 
unreal for Norman at that moment: he won- 
dered if he were alive. 

" I cannot believe a word of it," Norman 
said slowly, after a time. " But, no, I cannot ! 
If you really wanted a man to rule this country 
let us not say a King it sounds too foolish 
you would not choose an English grocer, 
examine his flesh as though he were a prize 
pig, thrash him before the eyes of his future 
subjects, and drive him out like a dog ? " 

" It was really necessary to see the phy- 
sique of the man who is to found a dynasty. 
I fear, though, the Doctor took his duties him- 
self too seriously. I fear, too, the whimsicality 



THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 163 

of the situation got hold of us: we were in- 
clined to make the most of it. It is not every 
day one examines a man for the post of King. 
And as for the rest we had to frighten you 
into secrecy, and if possible into a belief if not 
of our sincerity at least of our power. We had 
to be able to command your silence, and it 
was obvious you were not ready to believe our 
good faith." 

" Then show me your good faith ! " rejoined 
Norman. " Surely I have a right to demand 
that ? I only claim the just equivalent that 
I should deal with you as you dealt with me." 

'" Ah, you do not know," said Arnolfo, 
paling, " what you ask of me. On the day I 
make you King you may do with me what 
you will I promise you. You will rule me 
then; but I could not accept the dishonour 
from you now. If you think me a coward I 
am a coward, but I can overcome my cowar- 
dice. That is not my reason," the boy went 
on, holding out his hands to Norman with a 
wan smile. " There take my hands tor- 
ment me as you will; but not till the day you 
are crowned in the Cathedral of Alsander shall 
you have your full revenge." 

Norman rose and took the delicate hand, 
and shook hands with a smile. " I cannot help 
it,'' he said. " I do not care if you want to 
make me your jest again, or if you want to kill 
me, but I am yours to command. I can even 

M2 



164 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

forgive you. But as for your plan it is plainly 
impossible." 

" I think I do not care if it is, so long as I 
have your friendship," said Arnolfo, with 
strange warmth. " However, I admit there 
are many difficulties and many dangers in 
our plot, but what are those that strike you 
specially ? " 

" Do I look like an Alsandrian, first of all ! 
Or must I be made up to look like one ? " 

" Heavens, we will not stoop to disguise. 
Besides, I have a touch of the artist, sir, in 
my composition, and never would I have 
your features altered, your colour changed, or 
a hair of your head displaced. In any case, 
the Royal Family were always fair. Kradenda 
was a Viking. Remember, also, you have only 
to deceive the ignorant mob. All the intelli- 
gent men of Alsander are in the plot." 

" But I have been here for weeks ! " ob- 
jected Norman. " Every one knows me as the 
mad Englishman." 

" You have been playing Haroun Al Rashid, 
and spending the first days of your return to 
Alsander spying out the land. It is a very 
pretty story, and will greatly enhance your 
popularity. Besides, the Old Poet instructed 
you to weave a mystery round your move- 
ments, and I learn from a sure source that you 
obeyed him." 

" Then all this they tell me," gasped Nor- 



THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 165 

man, " that the King was sent abroad to be 
cured was got up on purpose for the plot ? v 

" Of course, and the announcement that his 
return and his cure are expected. Not a detail 
has been forgotten by Sforelli. There were 
guards at the palace, a closed carriage, a special 
train." 

" And the Consul ? " gasped Norman. 

"The Consul is an agent of the British 
Government, and the British Government, 
tired of wanting a strong Turkey, happens at 
this moment to want a strong Alsander." 

"AndVorza?" 

" Vorza is a fool," said the young man, but 
with less conviction than usual. 

" And the King himself. What shall we 
do with him ? " pursued Norman. 

; * What of him ? One of the guards knows 
of a little tap invented by the Japanese, as 
simple as the Jiu-jitsu trick with which I felled 
you in the shop the other day. The King really 
is the last person to be considered." 

" But, really, if you want me to have any- 
thing to do with it," cried Norman, in horror, 
" I cannot touch murder." 

" Not murder, but removal. What use is 
the poor devil's life to him or to the world ? '' 
So saying, Arnolfo sat down in the armchair 
facing his interlocutor and eyed him with 
interest. 

" I am not an Alsandrian. In England we 



166 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

view these things differently," said Norman, 
pompously, shocked that his gentle companion 
should be capable of designing such an atro- 
cious outrage. But Arnolfo answered unper- 
turbed: 

" In England I believe on one occasion you 
gave a King a mock trial and then beheaded 
him under circumstances of inconceivable 
barbarity. Ah! you're an Englishman, and 
mad like all of them, as mad as Andrea. 
Come, I love argument; let's have it out. One 
life, one rotten, miserable life to buy the 
happiness of a country, and you won't spend 
it. You call it principle. When you go to war, 
what do you care for life ? You are not reli- 
gious in the matter. It's just that fetish you 
call law. I did not ask you to kill the imbecile 
yourself; it will be done quietly." 

" I will have nothing to do with any filthy, 
cold-blooded murder. It isn't fetish : it's simply 
because I won't." 

" And if we deal with you instead of with 
him ? " 

' Try. I do not like your cynicism." 

" I am sorry. But it is unreason on your 
part, or else sheer cowardice. By what code 
of ethics in the world do you justify yourself ? 
You are just frightened to do something that 
w r ould make your conscience uncomfortable. 
On what do you base your morality ? ' ! 

" On feeling." 



THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 167 

" Would your feelings let you kill a man 
who was just going to kill some one 
else ? " 

" Certainly. 1 ' 

" Then why not a man whose existence 
does harm to others ? ' ! 

" Others might think my existence did 
harm to them." 

" But a life that is worthless to itself ? " 

" May not the poor fool's life be happier 
than yours or mine ? " said Norman, who was 
always fond of abstract argument and apt to 
grow eloquent in the realm of ideas. " He lives 
with his ideal. His cobwebbed, cracked-plaster 
room is for him a most elegant palace; he sees 
the phantom courtiers all day long; they bring 
him presents of fruits and flowers and spices 
and gold. He is for himself the great Emperor 
of the World, for all we know." 

" Then you will not justify a political 
assassination? ' ! 

" No. It's not so easy as you think, nor are 
my reasons so trumpery, Arnolfo for you're 
as shallow as you are clever. Murder cuts at 
the source of all society which war, which is 
organized killing, does not. Unorganized kill- 
ing means death not to one man here or there 
but to society. That is why we English, who 
think society a good thing, hate murder. Let 
it loose, unpunished, and if but twenty people 
are killed the law unheeding, it's worse for 



168 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

society than if twenty thousand perish in war 
or plague. I will not touch it." 

" Your reasoning is powerful, Norman, but 
it's not your reason that influences your 
action. Your act is, as you said before, in ac- 
cordance with your feelings. I might combat 
your reason, but I cannot change your con- 
victions. What can we do ? " 

" Well, it's not so terribly urgent to get rid 
of him." 

" What can possibly be done with him ? " 

" Why, send him to a lunatic asylum, of 



course." 



4 What a ghastly piece of perverted com- 
mon sense. 0, you Englishmen; you have never 
realized that the French Revolution has oc- 
curred. You are still a hundred years behind the 
Continent. But I am Alsandrian, my friend, 
I am Southern; I have all the Southern 
weakness." 

" And some of the Southern charm," added 
Norman. Though he had recovered under the 
stress of the ethical argument from the 
hypnotic fascination to which he had suc- 
cumbed, he began to be not so sure that he 
did not like this strange and gracious person. 

" But none of the Southern faithlessness," 
Arnolfo rejoined. " Trust me, Norman. Trust 
me and I will be faithful to you to death. I 
we all of us need you so desperately. This 
about the murder was only nonsense to hear 



THE PRESIDENT'S TALE 169 

what you had to say, though I'm afraid the 
good Sforelli suggested it in earnest. There 
is good work, man's work, an Englishman's 
work to be done here. Once the fantastic stuff 
the mummery is over, you may achieve 
true greatness." 

" I shall become a thief," said Norman. " Do 
you want to argue that ? ' : 

c You are right to remember it. That re- 
pugnance you must sacrifice: you are going 
to seize an all but worthless property and make 
it fine land for corn and olive." 

" Yet what I said of murder applies to 
theft: I am helping to cut at the basis of 
society." 

" But to found a new one. Come, in this 
objection you will not persist. You have not 
the same emotion, you do not really mind." 

" Or, rather, you wake in me such emotions 
such schoolboy emotions that I cannot 
control them. It's a game but it's worth play- 
ing. I don't care what awaits me discovery 
disaster death ! I don't care if you're fooling 
me. I follow you, Arnolfo. What are your 
orders ? " 

" Continue to play the part the Poet 
assigned to you, that is all. Hint of the 
mystery. I will prepare the rest as quickly as 
I can. About the King, I will arrange some- 
thing to please you. And now, good-bye." 

Norman held out his hand, but Arnolfo, 



170 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

under the stress of subdued emotion, laid his 
hands on Norman's shoulders and kissed him. 
" A Southern way," he said, half laughing, 
half ashamed. " One more thing, remember, I 
had almost forgotten," he added, as he 
opened the door for Norman. " That is, 
beware of women." 



171 

CHAPTER XI 

A VISIT TO VORZA 

" NORMAN, you must be awfully rich." 

So the guileless Peronella to him on his 
return, breathlessly emerging from the room 
to greet him. 

" Have you only just found that out ? ' ! 
said Norman, assuming the slight modest 
smile of a man who has been hiding his infinite 
superiority. 

" Yes. Why, of course, the buckle you gave 
me was very beautiful, but I had no idea. . . . 
I put it on this morning and went for a walk 
in it, and all the jewellers came running out 
of their shops to praise it and ask about it 
and offered thousands of francs for it. And, 
Norman, I wouldn't sell your buckle for 
anything, but if you would get me one of those 
lovely big hats the Frenchwoman sells in the 
High Street, just to go with it," 

' You are much finer as you are, my lass, 
with a kerchief round your head." 

" Oh, but do, Norman, dear ! It seems that 
buckle of yours is worth enough to buy a new 
hat for every girl in Alsander." 

Norman was about to surrender when he 
suddenly remembered he had rather less 



172 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

than a napoleon left in the world. " Well, I 
am in a foolish fix," thought he. " If I don't 
follow up the buckle, I shall be accused of 
having stolen it." (He surmised correctly; 
Alsandrian cunning was already suspicious of 
him.) "And my clothes are dreadful: a mil- 
lionaire or Prince, even in disguise, would 
not wear shiny blue trousers: a Prince in rags 
is all right, but not a Prince in bags. I wish I 
had given a hint to that marvellous Arnolfo, 
but somehow I expected him to know every- 
thing without being told. And perhaps it was 
all a dream and he a phantom." 

So he shut himself up in his room for the 
rest of the day. 

" I have important letters to write," he 
said, impassively. " You must be content 
with the buckle, Peronella. Wait a little while, 
and I'll dress yon in gold from head to foot." 

He retired, not to write, but to think and 
meditate. He had supper in his room, and for 
the first time in his life disliked cabbages. 
Then he went to bed. As he was falling asleep 
he wondered whether he had not been raving 
in his mind for the last few days: whether he 
was not being fooled: whether he would suc- 
ceed, what he would do when a King. There 
was plenty to do: the town was very dirty. 
An ecstatic vision of having all the drains up 
flitted across his mind. Succeeded a vision 
of fine mountain roads with cunning wrig- 



A VISIT TO VORZA 173 

gles, and the royal motor car sliding up 
them. Then the vision of a Court ball with 
more-than- Oriental splendour. Then the per- 
plexing vision of a little fool of a girl, damned 
pleasant to see and touch, crying her stupid 
heart out. 

However, he slept. He was awakened by a 
scrubby postman, who handed him a registered 
letter. Norman opened it hastily, and was 
delighted to find that it contained English 
banknotes for a hundred pounds delighted 
but not surprised, for Arnolfo had by now 
deadened his sense of wonder. He gave the 
postman twopence, and had breakfast in bed 
on the strength of his opulence. Indeed he rose 
so late that at the bank to which he directed 
his footsteps a five-pound note was changed 
only with the greatest reluctance, five minutes 
before noon, the Alsandrian closing time. 
However, after a lot of little sums had been 
worked out by a lot of little desks and after 
the five-pound note had been bitten, crackled 
and held up to the light, and after Norman 
had executed a lot of complicated moves 
and marked time strenuously in front of 
grilled windows and " caisses " (all Con- 
tinental banks seem to work on the supposi- 
tion that you have come there to pass a for- 
gery or rob the till), he was released with a 
large number of silver coins bulging in his 
trouser pockets. 



174 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

He stood for a moment on the threshold 
blinking at the sun, his contentment tempered 
by annoyance at the reflection that all the 
shops were closed and would not be opened 
again for another three hours, so that he could 
not buy so much as a pocket handkerchief for 
his personal adornment, when he heard a 
whirring clangorousness, and there appeared 
a motor car crawling and puffing along the 
ruinous cobbles, followed by a little crowd of 
admirers, for a motor was as strange in 
Alsander as an aeroplane (shall I add " a year 
ago " ?) above Upper Tooting. Norman would 
have known that the car was a London taxi 
had he ever been to London. The driver, 
smartly uniformed, stopped opposite him, and 
Arnolfo dressed in his invariable silk and gold 
stepped out, and bowed to Norman with a 
very ostensible deference. " I hope, Sir," he 
said suavely, " you will do me the honour of 
stepping into my car and coming to lunch with 
me at a little place I know of ? " 

" Why, how did you find me here ? " cried 
Norman. " You are as bewildering as the 
Cheshire cat." 

" It's not hard to find a suspicious fellow 
like you in a gossipy town like Alsander! v 
laughed Arnolfo. " Some other day, more- 
over, you shall tell me who the Cheshire cat 
was; but jump in now; we have no time 
to lose." 



A VISIT TO VORZA 175 

" I ought to hesitate," said Norman, but he 
stepped in at once. 

" We are going to continue playacting on 
the lines laid down by the Poet," said Arnolfo, 
as soon as they were ensconced in the car and 
being jolted softly and slowly over the atro- 
cious roads. " But you must forsake the prole- 
tariat for the aristocracy, and therefore I am 
going to take you round the town after lunch 
and dress you up like a Jew on a racecourse. 
For your story is to be that you are a rich 
English nobleman (any eccentricity will be 
swallowed in Alsander if you say you are a 
rich English nobleman), but that you find that 
you have Alsandrian blood on your mother's 
side from the fifteenth century. You see, the 
story you must tell at present should be a 
suspicious and extraordinary one, as you are 
soon going to disavow it when you proclaim 
yourself King: nevertheless it ought not to be 
so foolish as to be instantly found out." 

Arnolfo continued to explain in great detail, 
as the car bumped gently on, the exact coat 
of arms, the exact relationship, the name of 
the Alsandrian family (a cadet of which had 
actually disappeared in England in the wars) 
and various other minute details. 

When the car stopped they descended, and 
entered a curious and neat restaurant of 
which they seemed to be the only habitues, 
for it had only one table: there they had an 



176 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

excellent meal. Norman would have sworn 
it was a private house had not Arnolfo paid 
the bill and tipped the waiter. He would 
have sworn correctly, for it was. They then 
drove to a tailor, a haberdasher, a shoemaker, 
a hatter, at all of which places Arnolfo took 
the shopman aside and whispered that the 
order was for a very distinguished English 
nobleman, and should be executed without 
delay. Sometimes he would also let drop 
as a confidential favour that the nobleman 
:c havas sango Alsandra en la venai," or that 
" Milord had come to dwell in the country of 
his ancestors." The Grand Tour Englishman 
of fabulous wealth and high distinction 
remained traditional in Alsander, since the 
Polytechnic Englishman, neither wealthy, 
nor distinguished, nor fabulous, had not yet 
arrived; and an Englishman with Alsandrian 
blood was a prize for the avaricious. 

Norman was ostentatiously deposited at his 
garden door by the car, and for the rest of the 
day refused to answer any questions, and 
remained suggestive, impressive, mysterious 
and aloof, to the great discomposure of the 
Widow Prasko and her daughter. Cesano came 
in (I think by the widow's invitation, who 
hoped to inflame the obviously cooling Eng- 
lishman with jealousy), but Norman offered 
no remonstrance to his taking Peronella for a 
walk. (Not that Cesano had much joy of the 



A VISIT TO VORZA 177 

moonlight: the girl was moody and returned 
to cry herself to sleep within the hour.) Our 
hero then had to fly before the onset of the 
widow, who told him so closely does Al- 
sandrian correspond to English idiom that he 
owed it to her, positively owed it to her, to 
reveal his identity and regularize his position. 

" Give me a week," said Norman, shuffling 
away from her and feeling more like a grocer 
and less like a King every instant. 

As he undressed before the tarnished mirror 
the marks of the whip, which still stood clear 
across his back, seemed to rebuke his conceit; 
his dreams, too, were more humble; he dreamt 
he was married to the Widow Prasko and kept 
a boarding-house at Margate. 

The next morning a messenger, who looked 
preposterously discreet, brought a letter from 
Arnolf o, making an appointment at the British 
Consulate, and certain ready-made clothes 
which, as a temporary measure, had been 
skilfully and swiftly adapted to his form. 

Norman at the hour of his appointment 
found himself once more ensconced in the 
great armchair in the Consul's black-papered 
study, listening to Arnolfo. The Consul was 
not present. 

" We have a difficult and dreary task on hand 
to-day," Arnolfo began. " I am going to take 
you to visit all the important people of Alsan- 
der. We will take Sforelli with us in order to 

N 



178 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

make our movements look suspicious on re- 
capitulation. It will be much more natural 
for you to become King if you have already 
obviously moved in aristocratic circles. Your 
few weeks among the people will be readily 
credited provided that it is known that you 
came afterwards to visit the upper classes as 
w^ll. Some of those whom we shall visit are 
in the secret: but we have not entrusted the 
secret to their wives. Some of them may be 
clever enough to guess that you really are 
the King; indeed, we are going to spread a 
few hints to that effect: it will pave the way 
for future demands on the credulity of Al- 
sander. Of course (as I have already hinted) 
the presence of the Doctor as your companion 
will be looked upon as remarkable and invite 
the sort of comment we desire. 

" Remember, Norman, to be most distin- 
guished and at times a little strange. You 
are, so to speak, paying official visits incog- 
nito. And the last visit we shall pay will be to 
Count Vorza. beware of that man: he is a 
fool as I said before but he is a clever fool. 
Come, let us be going ! ' ! 

" But surely," exclaimed Norman with a 
glance at Arnolfo's magnificent attire, flashing 
at the side of his dark frockcoat, " you cannot 
call on the best people in that costume ! " 

" Can I not ! " replied Arnolfo as they de- 
scended the interminable stairs. " There is a 



A VISIT TO VORZA 179 

tradition in Alsander which it is at once un- 
usual, distinguished and meritorious to pre- 
serve, that the Alsandrian national costume 
is sufficient and full dress for any Alsandrian 
or any occasion." 

Sf orelli was waiting for them in the car, and 
they went motoring round together to the 
Papal Legate, the bank manager, nobles, 
consuls there was not even a minister in 
Alscander and so forth. Norman, chiefly by 
| preserving as far as possible a discreet silence, 
Idid well, and was complimented by Arnolfo. 

"The ladies thought you most distinguished, 
my friend," he said. " But you have now the 
harder task I told you of. There is the gate of 
Vorza's city mansion. Once more, beware! 
What men say of the old man is true. The 
aged reactionary is as polite as an Italian and 
as cunning, as treacherous and as wicked as 
Abdul Hamid the Turk. So be careful." 

It was a needful warning. The old man, 
very picturesque in his velvet skull cap, 
received them with great cordiality, and 
having expressed his great friendship for all 
Englishmen and referred half-a-dozen to a 
dozen times to the fact that he had been to 
London for three days in his youth, contrived 
that his wife, a colourless person, should 
take away Arnolfo and Sf orelli to a recess 
and show them photographs. He thereby had 
a chance of seeing Norman alone, and 

N2 



180 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

extracting as much information from him as 
possible without the intervention of his 
companions. 

" I am always so delighted to meet an 
Englishman," began the old minister, as soon 
as they were both ensconced in comfortable 
chairs, " especially as I have been to London 
myself. It is true I was there only for a short 
time, and that many years ago you see I am 
old but I have a vivid memory of it all. I 
remember the policemen marvellous! But 
we see very few Englishmen here. May I ask 
how you came here, or was it just that curi- 
osity of Englishmen that always drives them 
round the world? But you speak Alsandrian 
and between us I have even heard that you 
have a touch of the Alsandrian in you ? ' ! 

"It is the attraction of my blood that 
brought me here, undoubtedly. I have a great 
interest in my ancestry." 

" But you are obviously all English. You 
cannot have much Alsandrian blood. Tell me 
of what family you are. Between us I know 
all the families in Alsander." 

Norman endured the most searching scru- 
tiny with regard to his ancestry. He made 
hardly a mistake. There was little that Vorza 
did not know about the old families of Al- 
sander. 

" Really," he said, genially, " your visit is 
as interesting as it is delightful. The visit of 



A VISIT TO VORZA 181 

jan English nobleman to Alsander is not an 
[everyday occurrence. Your visit to the com- 
Imon people and interest in their daily life 
that was most characteristically English of 
you. Yes, your visit, sir, is a great surprise and 
it coincides with another surprise for us 
iAlsandrians. You know events are rare here, 
but this will be a great one." 

" You mean the cure of the King ? v 
" Yes. I don't believe it. Sforelli, you know 
one of those Jews, between us just a little 
bit too clever ! Wonderful how he picked you 
up: I should drop him if I were you, by the 
way. And I had always heard that his poor 
Majesty was quite, quite mad. I never went to 
see. I dislike madmen as much as Jews. Arnolf o 
should not have introduced you to Sforelli, but 
the boy is so kind to every one ! And I'm sure 
the King cannot be quite recovered there 
will be something a little wrong. And a relapse 
what a tragedy! Of course, I shall be de- 
lighted. I am an old man, and (between us) 
tired of ruling a thankless country. It would 
have been too long to wait for the Princess 
to grow up: now she'll be out of it, poor 
girl!" 

6 Which Princess ? ' ! interjaculated Nor- 
man, innocently. 

" Don't you know? His Majesty's cousin, 
the heir to the throne. She lives with her 
mother's family far away in Ulmreich. They 



182 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

say she is mad also, and there is no holding her. 
Old blood, old blood ! She was to have come 
here this year to be introduced to Alsander, 
but the idea fell through till the possibility of 
the King's cure had been established one way 
or another. I have not seen her since she was a 
girl. She is under the guardianship of the father 
of that charming young man, your friend 
Arnolfo. I am sorry I shall not be able to see 
her again." 

" Bring her here and marry her to her 
cousin," said Norman. 

He was quite detached at the time from all 
thought of his plot. 

" A very good idea. But I don't know," 
replied the old man. " Between us, two mad 
people! Would it be good for the future of 
Alsander ? " 

" You are fond of the country ? " in- 
quired Norman. 

" Passionately. I love its beauty. Between 
us, I want it just to remain as it is a lovely 
and peaceable place, untouched by the world." 

" You don't believe in progress ? v 

" Not for Alsander. They want me to repair 
the roads. Never, said I. Saving your friend's 
presence, I hate automobiles. They would 
soon be roaring all over the country and spoil- 
ing it absolutely. Our roads were made for 
carts and mules: and the people are quite 
happy with them. Your friend has one: just as 



A VISIT TO VORZA 183 

a curiosity, it doesn't matter. Your friend," 
he added in a low voice, " was an infant when 
I last saw him before his return to Alsander. 
I knew his father years ago. A delightful man, 
but of advanced views. Now, Monsieur Arnolf o 
has no views at all, but almost anything can 
be forgiven him for keeping up the old tradi- 
tions of the national costume, and he's a great 
acquisition to our little society. Between us, 
have you known him long ? ' ! 

" I ? No. I should very much like to know 
more of him. I brought a letter of introduc- 
tion to him from a relative in England, who 
had met him and his father in Ulmreich. As 
you said, he is charming: there is no other 
word." 

"Is he not? Charming: of course restless, 
but not like his father, who couldn't live in 
Alsander because it was what he called 
reactionary. Oh, if his father, old Arnolfo, 
got a chance, he'd run a funicular up the 
mountains and build a casino on the beach." 

" Well, there's something to be said for 
being awake and something to be said for 
modernity," observed Norman. 

" True, sir, but (between us)," said Vorza, 
with a more confidential tone than ever, " I 
have been, I admit, only a very short time in 
England, three days, in fact; and I am a bit 
of a judge, perhaps, in matters of taste and 
I didn't see anything in London, among your 



184 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

latest buildings, at all events, that quite comes 
up to our Cathedral or our Castle." 

" But your Cathedral and Castle weren't 
built by a people fast asleep, but by a people 
who had just awakened. If Kradenda had 
lived to-day he would have established an 
aeroplane service across the mountains. 

" Well, well, and would we be happier for 
that ? Ah, you're young and you're English, 
and I wouldn't think much of you if you 
weren't for all things new. At your age I was 
the devil ! I may be more foolish now, but 
we old men want to think we have grown 



wise." 



c You want to sift the question, Excel- 
lency; but that's a long, long matter. Perhaps 
happiness is not the best thing in the world. 
But here is Arnolfo." 

And they took (heir leave. 

"Curses!" said Vorza to himself, as he 
watched their departure from the window. 
" Ten million curses. Is this a surprise return ? 
Is it the King? It's about the age. But he 
looks too British, too British altogether. 
But, then, so did his grandfather. There's 
not much madness in his eyes or talk. It 
cannot be. He might be cured, but he could not 
be intelligent. And that physique it's im- 
possible. But there's something up. Why did I 
trust Sf orelli ? In the old days I would have 
burnt him, gaberdine and all ! Curses on him, 



A VISIT TO VORZA 185 

at all events, and on me ! How am I to know 
whether he is the King or no ? If it's a plot 
it may succeed it is so simple. Perbacco ! 
how simple it is ! Well, we shall see ! " 



186 

CHAPTER XII 
IN WHICH THE BEETLES CRAWL 

But solid beetles crawled about 
The chilly hearth and naked floor. 

James Thompson, author of the " City of Dreadful 
Night/' popularly ascribed to Mr Kipling. 

ALL preparations for this most surprising 
conspiracy were to be ready, so Arnolfo gave 
Norman to understand, on the following 
afternoon, and Norman, doubting his senses 
and still doubting the seriousness of Arnolfo, 
rose early and came to the appointed place, 
which was again the British Consulate, before 
the appointed time. After a few minutes there 
came to greet him, not Arnolfo, but Sforelli, 
a gentleman who would have looked heroic 
in a burnoose beside the ruins of Palmyra, but 
seemed merely intellectual and rather repul- 
sive in a morning coat. He handed Norman a 
letter sealed with what Norman knew to be 
Arnolfo's seal. It ran as follows: 

" DEAB NOBMAN, 

" Everything is going well. Please put 
yourself entirely in the hands of Dr Sforelli, 
the bearer of this, who has full instructions 



THE BEETLES CRAWL 187 

from the Society. I am so busy, I may not see 
you again till you are crowned. 

" ARNOLFO." 

Norman, looking at the Palestinian profile 
before him, felt that the spring had left the 
year. The gay youth, with his wit and plots 
and disguises, would make anyone believe or 
even do anything. While this worthy? The 
transition from Greece eastwards was over- 
powering. 

Yet one could see this swarthy, powerful 
person was to be trusted, more to be trusted 
than Arnolfo. Norman burst into a flood of 
practical questions. 

" We shall just walk there," came the 
answer to Norman's first batch of inquiries. 
" I often go to the palace, as I live quite near, 
in the square: I have a dissecting room there: 
my wife objects to having corpses in the 
house." 

" Dissecting ? In Alsander ? " 

" Yes," replied the doctor, in hollow tones. 
" It was expensive getting corpses in pickle 
from Paris. So I advertised in the Centjaro, 
the little local paper you may have seen, the 
one that hints so broadly that the King of 
Alsander is already in the town incognito." 

" But with success ? Surely, in such a reli- 
gious country . . ." 

" There was money offered," continued 



188 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

Sforelli, dryly. " My door was besieged. I am 
not sure I was not responsible for murder, 
even for parricide. Some of those whose near 
relations were rejected went away in tears." 

" Well, Doctor Sforelli, to the point. This 
mad central idea you are sure of that no one 
has seen the King; but what about the 
guards ? " 

" The guards are with us." 

" But why should they be with us ? r 

" They are sensible men, for one thing. 
They are very old servants of Arnolfo's, for 
another." 

"ThenVorza?" 

" He has never seen the King, you know 
that already." 

" And the other notables ? " 

" All the members of the Town Council, 
which is the progressive element in Alsander, 
are with us. For all that, none of them have 
seen Andrea." 

" But has there been no ceremony ? For 
instance, was Andrea never crowned? '' 

" Yes, but with little pomp. There was 
only the Bishop there and myself. He was 
crowned in the empty room." 

" And the Bishop ? " 

" Is fortunately dead. No one lives but 
myself who saw that mock coronation and 
a small acolyte who is now one of the most 
able young men of our party. The people were 



THE BEETLES CRAWL 189 

kept outside, but I remember they applauded, 
none the less. But the only person who was 
really impressed was the King himself. It 
meant a great deal to him, that shabby 
ceremonial ! " 

" What has given the King that antique 
form of speech ? " pursued Norman. 

" Before his mind left him, he had as a boy 
read one book that of Makso." 

" A ! a great book ! " cried Norman. " There 
is real fire in his tales of chivalry." 

" And poetry, too," added Sforelli, "of no 
inconsiderable merit. Well, you know how 
the greatness of Kradenda is ever being sung 
therein. And ever since the boy, as he has 
heard but little human speech about him, 
has had faint echoes of the immortal lan- 
guage of Makso trickling through his brain." 

" One hardly realized he was so young," 
said Norman, with a sudden pity. 

" He is your age," replied Sforelli. 

" Is there no hope of cure ? " 

" None," said the doctor, decisively. " None 
on my professional honour. His delusions 
come from mental weakness, not from aber- 
ration. I might cure a man who had wandered 
from the road of reason, but not one who has 
never taken it." 

So saying they started for the palace, on 
foot as Sforelli advised, to attract less atten- 
tion. 



190 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" You are still determined not to have 
Andrea killed ? "inquired Sforelli. 

" That I prohibit absolutely," said Norman, 
speaking with authority for the first time. 

Sforelli bowed with some irony. 

" Fortunately," he said, " there is a small 
asylum outside the town under my super- 



vision.' 1 



" How are we to get him there ? '* pur- 
sued Norman. 

" I think of drugging him, and then driving 
him there myself to-night. It will not be 
difficult." 

" I have your word, you intend to do this, 
and to do no more than drug him ? ' ! 

" Although I consider that this humani- 
tarian project of yours is fraught with great 
danger to our plans, you may trust me," said 
Sforelli, quietly, and Norman believed the man 
could be trusted for all his antipathetic 
ugliness. He inquired: 

" And what am I to do while you do this ? " 

" I am afraid the safest plan will be for 
you to stay alone in the castle overnight 
pending my return. It may be rather dis- 
agreeable and lonely for you, especially as you 
may naturally feel nervous on the eve of our 
great coup, but I see nothing else for it. I 
must take the King to the asylum myself. 
It is not safe that any of our friends should 
either take charge of the madman or bear 



THE BEETLES CRAWL 191 

you company in the castle, for obvious 
reasons. I cannot be back much before dawn. 
When I return I shall send an official note to 
Vorza and explain, by your royal request, that 
the young c English nobleman ' who visited 
him the other day is none other than the 
cured King of Alsander. I shall add that 
you have returned to the Palace and desire to 
have the news kept secret for the present 
except from him and a few other notables. 
I shall further explain that you desired to 
remain a few days incognito in Alsander 
from a natural desire of seeing things as they 
are. 

" You will send, written in your own hand, 
at the same time a command to your well 
beloved and trusted servant Count Vorza 
to appear at such an hour, and similar inti- 
mations (though not in your Royal hand), 
together with injunctions to secrecy, will be 
sent to other notables of Alsander. This letter 
will be sealed by you with the Royal seal of 
Alsander, which is in my possession. 

" When the time comes you will have to 
play your part with the utmost care and 
even if you recognize some of the visitors 
as being members of the society and fellow 
conspirators, do not cease acting for a mo- 
ment. I will tell you the story to which you 
must hold and to which you must, so to 
spoak, mentally refer when in difficulty. I will 



192 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

tell it you to-morrow morning, when I return, 
in the palace, in great detail, so that your 
memory will be fresh for the day. But for the 
present, so as to get your mind accustomed 
to it, note that its outline is roughly this: 
You have been cured in England, mind you, 
and your mind is almost a blank for every- 
thing before that, save that you have vague 
reminiscences of Makso's poems, and a father 
and a mother. You had an operation tre- 
panning. And so forth." 

" But it's too unconvincing scientifically. 
Scientists are sure to arrive and ask ques- 
tions." 

" Scientifically it will be as correct as a 
story by your own Mr Wells, when I have given 
you all the details. And I will answer the 
scientists myself. Above all, avoid being too 
explanatory. Nothing causes suspicion to arise 
so much as the volunteering of convincing 
information." 

Thus conversing they arrived at the palace 
gate. It was already dark and not a soul 
stirred in the palace square. Two guards 
saluted them at the doorway. Norman recog- 
nized one with a shudder and one with sur- 
prise. One was the flagellator, the other the 
overworked clerk from the British Consulate. 
Two further guards, rising from their seats on 
the inner side of the gate, followed them in 
silence across the moonlit garden. The jasmine 



THE BEETLES CRAWL 193 

was fragrant. The doctor opened a little door. 
Norman passed once again into the curious 
corridor, and thence into the throne-room. It 
was lit by many candles, and was very hot. 
Everything was there as on his last visit 
plaster cupids, broken divans, singeries, the 
old chair of Kradenda, and the madman 
looking as unreal as his surroundings a part 
of the fantastic picture glimmering in the 
dim light. The King, however, though still 
robed in ermine and cloth of gold, was without 
his crown, and there was one further change. 
Everything, except the King, had been 
washed. Even by the faint illumination this 
was perceptible. The candelabra shone, the 
fat thighs of the plaster cherubs were as white 
as life; even the remote and secret windows 
let through an undimmed sun. 

The King startled the silence. " Ho, 
thou leech," he cried, " where is my 
crown ? '' 

" It is being repaired," said Sforelli, with a 
bow. " I have brought you back Sir Norman as 
I promised." 

" You have been long absent, sir, though 
your King was in need of you. What have 
you achieved all these long days ? " | 

" Sire," said Norman, " I have slain three 
dragons, a red, a yellow and a green: and all 
with horns upon their tails." 

c " But my dragon," said the King, impres- 

o 



194 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

sively, " you have not slain. And to-night 
I must meet my Queen." 

' Thy Queen, Sire ? " said SforeUi, in evi- 
dent surprise. 

" Even so." 

" That will be impossible unless the en- 
chanter is slain." 

" Then he must be slain at once," said the 
King, with resolution. 

" Exactly, and that is why I have brought 
this good Knight. But your Majesty must 
drink a draught to protect you against 
enchantment." 

" This last time I will obey you to obtain 
deliverance. I am sick of your potions. But 
beware; if he is not slain in time for the 
arrival of that paragon of the world, my 
Queen, I will I will " (the King frowned 
and hesitated to find words terrible enough) 
" I will cut off all your toes and thread 
them in a necklace and hang them round your 
neck," he said in triumph. 

" Bring the cup," said Sforelli to one of 
the guards, who immediately produced a 
rose-coloured liquid in a tumbler, which he 
handed to the King off a salver with some 
ceremony. The King immediately drank it: 
the four men waited in silence as a happy 
smile began to play over the Royal features 
and he sank quietly asleep. The two guards 
then stripped him of his state robes and 



THE BEETLES CRAWL 195 

muffled him up in a great coat, and, followed 
by the doctor and Norman, took him out to 
the castle gate, where a closed carriage was 
waiting, and placed him inside. The doctor 
turned to Norman. 

" 1 wonder what that was about his 
Queen ? It's quite a new delusion and startled 



me." 



" Some stir of Spring in him, perhaps," said 
Norman. 

" Well, it's of little matter. We'll find out 
at the asylum. He will be better off there 
than here in many ways. It's cleaner, and he 
will have more fresh air. He is an interesting 
subject. Now, my unfortunate friend, as we 
arranged, you must wait in this place, I am 
afraid, till I return, which will not not be till 
near on dawn, for there is still much to do. 
As I said, I am afraid you will be lonely. I think 
you had better not show yourself out of this 
wing of the castle, and the guards cannot keep 
you company as they must stay at the gate. 
However, you will find a library, rather tech- 
nical, perhaps, in my dissecting room. A 
couch has been prepared there, too, and I 
have not forgotten tobacco. No," continued 
the doctor, in response to a nervous look in 
Norman's face, " there is nothing there but 
books and implements," and the doctor with 
this assurance drove off with his capture. 

On the way the lunatic began to recover 

o2 



196 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

from the effects of the drug. He sat in the 
carriage, now opening and now shutting an 
eye, and once mumbling some words about 
his Queen. Finally he went to sleep again. 
The doctor had but little parley at the dimi- 
nutive asylum, a doll's house of a construc- 
tion which he had built, and now managed. 
He ran it, indeed, at considerable profit, for 
the paying patients, offshoots of the noble 
families, considerably outnumbered such pau- 
per inmates as he admitted free. He explained 
to the trusty guardian the deplorable delusions 
of the patient, and ordered certain comforts 
to be given him. 

" You might also get him shaved," he 
added. 

The guardian, who was a conspirator also, 
thoroughly understood the whole business. 
And there we can leave the doctor and return 
to Norman, who by no means enjoyed the 
situation. He did not find the books in the 
dissecting room of much interest. He was 
wandering in the throne-room, which looked 
more ghastly than ever, now the guards 
had extinguished the candles, in the flickering 
shadow of the lamp he carried, when he 
found several scraps of paper on the throne 
itself. They were covered with intricate 
designs and meaningless arabesques. There 
was a wing, there a face, there a foot, there an 
emblem all incoherent and messed round 



THE BEETLES CRAWL 197 

with wild scratches. The bits of paper had so 
fearsome a fascination that it was almost a 
relief to Norman to go back to the dissect- 
ing room and sit down and try to read a 
treatise on skin diseases. But long before he 
had mastered the difficult subject Norman was 
on foot again, restless and troubled. The win- 
dow was barred Andrea had slept here 
sometimes. The night was close. 

He sighed for the young strong arms that 
might have been round his neck. The con- 
spiracy seemed already to be enclosing him 
in an impenetrable net. As immeasurable 
time wore on the fishy eyes of Andrea 
haunted him. 

He would not sleep inside the bed, a sorry 
and comfortless pallet which might have been 
the madman's. 

He lay down on it, dressed as he was, 
flinging off only his collar. Sleep would not 
come, save for fitful visions. Rising again, 
he saw his face pallid in the looking-glass by 
the light of the dingy candle, which flickered 
in a gorgeous stand of beaten copper. He blew 
the candle out hurriedly, then groped for 
marches, and lit it again, and flung himself 
once more on to the couch. 

A fitful slumber was desceiiding over him, 
prelude to sweet sleep, when he heard foot- 
steps, with a tapping noise and the sound of 
voices. One voice was a man's: there were 



198 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

two other voices, of women. Norman leapt 
from the bed, alert, and listened hard. 

" He won't hurt you, Drakina," said one 
voice. " He's kissed me many a time, and I 
don't know what he might not have done 
if Makzelo had not been there." 

A confused giggle was all the reply Norman 
could hear. 

" Where is he, Malsprita ? " said another 
girl's voice. 

" Hullo," said the voice of the man, appa- 
rently called Makzelo. " He seems to have 
gone away. The room's empty, that's strange." 

" Perhaps he's gone to bed," said a girl. 

" He can't have; he never goes to bed as 
early as this. We have played with him night 
after night. He loves it, doesn't he, Mal- 
sprita ? " 

"When I do it." 

More giggles. Then the voice of Drakina 
was heard, saying she was frightened. 

" Andrea ! " cried Makzelo. 

They all shouted; there was no reply, 

" Let's go and look for him in the corri- 
dors. How strange ! he was dreadfully excited 
about his Queen. He mustn't be disap- 
pointed." 

" I'm frightened," said Drakina. " I don't 
want to be his Queen." 

'" You who wanted so to be in a real 
King's arms. What a little coward you are ! " 



THE BEETLES CRAWL 199 

" But the corridors are so dark. Is he very 
dreadful to look at, Malsprita ? ' ! 

" He is not so ugly as you, club-foot ! 
Nothing like." 

There was a shuffling and tapping into the 
corridors. 

Norman listened with wonder and disgust. 
Not quite realizing the meaning of the con- 
versation, he had nevertheless understood 
enough to feel like a prisoner whose cell is full 
of rats. What nameless revels had these beings 
held ? The nocturnal visits of these creatures 
were evidently unknown to Dr Sforelli. Here 
were three people who knew the King by 
sight: if this unexpected difficulty were not 
disposed of, the whole plot was ruined. At all 
events time must be gained: they must not be 
led to imagine the King already gone. What 
should he do ? He had a second to deliberate 
while they went into the throne-room: but 
had made no plan when he heard them outside 
his door. 

" Then he must be in his bedroom," said 
the man, and went over to open the door. 
* Why, it's locked." 

" Perhaps the doctor did it," said the club- 
foot girl. 

"Let's burst it in!* 3 

" I daren't disobey the doctor," said the man. 

" That doctor's a devil. Why must he pre- 
tend the King's away ? " 



200 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" For God's sake don't tell a soul." 

"Andrea! Your Queen!' 1 

" He must be sound asleep, or drugged," 
said a woman. 

" Let's go and look in through the window," 
said the voice which Norman had by now 
identified as that of Malsprita. 

" We might get a look at him, at all events. 
Always my luck; just the night I came." 

" Well, we'll do that for you," said the man, 
pompously. He led them round outside. The 
club-foot girl continued moaning, " I was 
born crooked and ugly and crooked and ugly 
I shall die, and I might have been happy 
just once." And still complaining she passed 
out of earshot with the rest. Norman covered 
his head with a sheet, and crouched beneath 
the window, waiting. He heard the shuffle and 
tap coming along the gravel outside. 

" Why, the bar's out," said the club-foot 
girl, and she poked her hideous head right 
through the window. It was a face neither 
of man nor woman, nor yet of utter evil, but 
rather of incarnate brutishness. It had no 
features but a mouth; it was a flat and fleshy 
face. In frenzy, Norman rose, emitting a 
falsetto shriek extremely piercing and hor- 
rible by which he frightened even himself, and 
dealt a terrific blow at the head with the great 
candlestick. By a surprisingly swift move the 
woman, if woman it was, avoided the bar, 



THE BEETLES CRAWL 201 

receiving the blow on her arm: she uttered a 
piercing shriek more ghastly still, and the 
three intruders rushed away into darkness. 
Losing for the first time in his life all his self- 
control, Norman kept on shouting and at the 
same time banged the candlestick against a 
tin basin, producing a desolating boom. Then 
he became quiet, relit the candle, and with a 
book in his hand, which he hardly read, now 
dozing, now awakening with a start if a leaf 
rustled or a mouse ran over the floor, stayed 
in his chair till he could endure it no longer 
and fled out into the open air. 

The doctor on his return as he came with 
one of the guards through the entrance gate 
discovered Norman in the grey of dawn pacing 
the ruined garden and shivering with cold. 
He was much troubled when he heard the 
story. " I have been vilely negligent, and I 
ought to be ashamed of myself for forgetting 
the fellow," he said. " He was a sort of nurse 
to Andrea. I thought him too stupid and too 
frightened of me to do harm, and as he is not 
supposed to come here at night I had post- 
poned dealing with him till to-day." And 
turning to the guard at his side, he bade him 
arrest the three persons concerned and keep 
them in close custody in the old keep. " Forget 
all that unpleasantness now, Sir," he con- 
tinued, " and I beg of you to attend to more 
serious topics. The letters addressing an invita- 



202 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

tion to the notable people in the town to come 
and felicitate you on your cure are now ready 
and waiting for you to sign them. The said 
notables should be here this afternoon. You 
will receive them here in military uniform." 

" And what shall I say to them ? You have 
only told me the story of myself. How shall I 
greet them ? v 

" That, Sir, is for you to decide. We rely on 
you: you must rely on yourself.'* 



203 

CHAPTER XIII 
RE-CORONATION 

The world was made for Kings : 
To him who works and working sings 
Come joy and majesty and power 
And steadfast love with royal wings 1 

THE preliminary interview with the notables 
succeeded beyond expectation. No sign of 
doubt was displayed anywhere, and the happy 
suggestion was made that a re-coronation 
should take place a few days later, to coincide 
with the great Midsummer feast of San 
Adovani. 

Vorza, who had rolled up to the meeting 
in his superb state coach, was extremely 
deferential. Norman detained him after for 
a private interview, ostentatiously dismissing 
even Sforelli. 

" Alas! " said the King to him, " that so 
many years of helplessness have prevented 
me from a due appreciation of your untiring 
energies in the service of this realm. Be not 
afraid that I shall ever forget the old noble 
houses of Alsander. In you I know I can put 
my trust, and I will begin this auspicious 
day by honouring a tried and faithful servant 
of my family and the nation." 



204 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

This said, Norman clapped his hands, and 
an attendant entered carrying on a cushion 
a collar set with pearls. 

" Here are the insignia of the office of 
Lord Chamberlain," continued the King, 
" which I found in an old safe, tarnished with 
age and disuse. This I put round your neck 
and make you master of my household. I pray 
you now to arrange the procession. I have 
made Doctor Sforelli my secretary: consult 
with him if you will: he knows all the details. 
For the present," continued the King, confi- 
dentially, " I have need of Sforellf s services. 
For the present," he added in a low voice, 
with much insinuation. 

Vorza left the presence somewhat mollified 
but still suspicious. 

After this preliminary interview, following 
Sforelli's advice, Norman did not show him- 
self abroad till the day of his re-coronation: 
and heard like a man imprisoned vague 
rumours of the stir outside. On the night of 
anticipation the young King for so he shall 
be styled in future slept little, and rising in 
the first grey of dawn he muffled himself in 
a coat and stepped out unseen upon a lofty 
balcony to look out upon the waiting crowd. 
Down there, in the cold misty break of a day 
that promised a relentless noontide sun, up- 
turned faces were appealing stupidly for 
information to the granite castle walls. Weary 



RE-CORONATION 205 

men began to yawn and shuffle, and shifted 
the drowsy girls that slept upon their knees. 
Some were dozing on stools ; others, seated on 
parapets, leant back uncomfortably against 
the rusty lamp-posts; others lay carelessly 
upon the pavement or on the pedestal of the 
statue of Kradenda. 

" Truly," thought Norman, " they will be 
stiff men to rule, these people of Alsander: 
their heads are all the same shape." 

The King was to step into his gilded coach 
in the company of Vorza and Sforelli: the 
guards had already cleared the road with 
unprecedented valour, while the amazing 
coachman perched himself expectantly upon 
the box as if he had been born for the task 
and indeed the doctor had even found the 
family in which the tradition ran of driving 
this curious vehicle. Norman, dressed in 
military uniform, at the appointed hour left 
the throne-room, and with great solemnity 
was handed to his seat by the Lord Cham- 
berlain, who then took his place in the Royal 
coach. They left the castle yard amid a roar 
of enthusiasm, and moved slowly down the 
main street of the town towards the Cathedral 
square. Such had ever been the processional 
route of the Kings of Alsander. 

At last the carriage stopped at the grand 
porch of the Cathedral. There, after Norman 
had been robed in those same overpowering 



206 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

and sumptuous cloths of state that had been 
stripped from the unconscious Andrea, the 
ceremony of re-coronation took place. It 
proved to be an elaborate function, invented 
by an old-time Bishop with a passion for sym- 
bolism and an eye for scenic effect. It consisted 
of appropriate ritual minutiae, as, for instance, 
the re-anointing and replacing of the crown 
which it would be tedious to describe in detail. 
But the closing scene of the service was superb. 
Norman raised himself from his knees, and 
turned towards the people, feeling his young 
body awkwardly stiff amid the heroic amplours 
of his purple robes, and in a few sentences pro- 
mised to increase the glory of Alsander, making 
no reference to the mad years gone by. Idle 
to reproduce those simple sentences, without 
the animate vision of that clear voice, and 
the humorous, handsome face with its bril- 
liant blue eyes; without knowing that most 
wonderful of Cathedrals, whose Byzantine 
mosaics seemed no less barbarous and splendid 
than the aristocracy, expectant beneath, 
whose jewels, the hoard of feudal treasure 
chests, glimmered and swayed dimly in the 
incense-laden choir. 

And strange it was how when he made that 
Bpeech the words of the boy rang true and 
sincere. In the glory of the ceremony 
he forgot the shabby and grotesque con- 
spiracy: he became for the moment the 



RE-CORONATION 207 

King of Alsander: he meant the words he 
said. 

The afternoon was ushered in by a long pro- 
cession of girls and youths: the girls carrying 
little pots wherein grew wheat, cornflowers 
and poppies. They passed in Indian file before 
the Cathedral, and each fair girl that passed 
broke her pot against the door, in front of 
whose dinted panels soon grew up a little 
mountain of sherds, and earth, and fading 
flowers and corn. Then they passed down 
to the riverside, and the King followed them in 
state. There they found themselves face to 
face with the young men of Alsander, many 
of them in that gorgeous national costume of 
which Arnolf o was so fond, who had left them 
at the Cathedral door and had run round the 
bridge and were already facing them on the 
opposite bank. The youths threw off boots 
and socks, if they were wearing them, and 
coats, if they possessed them: neither did 
the girls fear to display their shapely feet: 
men and maidens entered the stream, the men 
valiantly, the maids demurely, and then, 
dipping their hands in the water, they began 
splashing each other vigorously across the river. 
When all were soaked with water many of 
the men swam over, seized a girl and ducked 
her in the stream: this was held to be a most 
solemn betrothal. For in the meantime the 
priests and the Cathedral choir had assembled 



208 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

on the bridge and young voices began to 
raise the old Latin hymn of the Consecration 
of the Waters, a hymn older than the Cathe- 
dral of Alsander itself, one of the oldest 
hymns in the world. Swiftly the tumult was 
stilled, and all knelt by the shore. 

Raised on a platform behind the priests 
stood the tall King: he did not seem to share 
the joy of all the others, and while they 
knelt he shaded his eyes, but not for prayer, 
The first excitement of his adventure had 
passed: seeing now all around him in the 
clear and truthful sunlight this mock revel 
given in his honour and in honour of a he, he 
felt a thief and a liar. There was no thrill of 
triumph in his heart for his achievement. His 
fellow conspirators had taken him into their 
farce as one might take a spectator from the 
stalls and dress him up for the role of Bang. 
In the farce nothing mattered honour or 
right or manhood. Now here was reality to 
face him: he was a King, and an impostor. 
The amazing Arnolf o, whose fantasy and youth 
had given some poetry to the crude con- 
spiracy, had deserted him. Women, and the 
fair woman he had seen in the light of morn- 
ing was it a thousand years ago ? were lost 
to him for ever. As amid the joyous sunshine 
of that first morning when he saw Alsander 
rise up above her meadows, when, afraid of 
the world's too deadly beauty, he had felt 



RE-CORONATION 209 

more lonely than ever in his life before, so now 
when he had achieved this marvellous thing, 
now that he ruled the ancient, fair and fabled 
city, he sank into utter desolation of the soul. 
And this time no golden girl would chase the 
black phantom of sorrow from his soul. 

But as the great final major chords of the 
sumptuous old song rolled out above the 
river new courage came to him. He could not 
go back. He could not justify himself ever at 
any time at all. He realized that the plot 
had irrevocably succeeded: and that he was a 
prisoner for ever. Nevermore would he tramp 
the joyful mountains. To no new country could 
he direct his steps. To his own country and 
his own sweet village nevermore would he 
return. Love for women the true, free love of 
a boy henceforward he might never feel. 
Honest men he might never shake by the hand 
again. Severed from friends and the sweet 
companions of youth, he must thenceforth 
talk with wise or portentous or aged men. 

Serious and sad, he looked at the beautiful 
city, shining above the shining river. He saw 
new visions, thought out new ideas, of a bitter 
and Spartan taste for a boy's sugared fancy. 
His soul and his conscience, his peace of mind, 
his friends, his love, his youth he flung down 
as an offering to the city. And like a man, he 
swore to work. 



210 

CHAPTER XIV 
PRINCESS IANTHE 

L il vino, la luce, la nota che freme 
Nei nervi, nel sangue, risveglian 1'ardor. 

Carducci. 

HAKDLY in the history of Alsander, not when 
the first Kradenda laid the foundation-stone 
of the Cathedral and all his warriors clashed 
their spears, nor yet in the silver age of 
Basilandron, when the youthful bands, clothed 
curiously, the women in gauze veils and the 
men in leopard skins, woke unhallowed revel 
beneath those sacred walls, when their trum- 
pets blew for the bloodless battle, and the fifes 
played a prelude to amorous war, hardly in 
her days of victory or days of loveliness had 
the old castle square been so clamorous or 
splendid as on this night of the Royal feast. 
The sun had just set, and the afterglow was 
fading from the marble fa9ade of the palace; 
the Queen of Night was on her throne; the 
bunting-covered trestle tables were prepared 
for a great feast which all Alsander was to 
attend. The wine stood ready in barrels: the 
huge Parisian carver, a master of his art, 
bared his bullock arms for the strife; servants 
staggered out from the castle kitchen with 
dishes; and already the people were beginning 



PRINCESS IANTHE 211 

to assemble, for they heard the great horn of 
summoning blow clear and strong. The old 
men hobbled in on sticks, the middle-aged 
sniffed the viands, the young men came 
joyously along with laughter and the lasses. 
Seven thousand voices cried " Amen " to the 
Archbishop's meandering Latin grace: and 
amid an uproar of delight the King himself lit 
the vast bonfire prepared in the midst, the 
immemorial bonfire of the feast day, which 
was to be now a welcome compensation for 
the vanished light and warmth of the sun. 

For the day was to end, as it had begun, 
with the full glory of mediaeval pageant, and 
by unbroken tradition each new-crowned 
King had to give a feast to his townfolk to 
celebrate his coronation. But this was a 
specially noble and glorious ceremony it was 
more than a coronation: it was a re-coronation 
and Alsander expected that amends would 
be made for the inglorious day when, amid a 
winter rain, a thin and draggled concourse 
of spectators watched the closed carriage 
which they were told contained a King that 
was no King and a man that was no man. 
And now, behold, they had a King indeed, 
who looked strangely unlike a convalescent 
madman a Bang as young and beautiful 
and strong as a woman's heart could wish to 
break for a King of perfect utterance and 
fine presence whom any loyal gentleman would 

F2 



212 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

be proud to serve. A Bang, moreover, who 
had already come and lived among the hum- 
blest of his people like a simple stranger. 
What more could Alsander desire ? 

Happy and blest was the table which 
enjoyed the company of one of those who 
had known the King during his stay at the 
Widow Prasko's. Willing enough were they 
all to talk, little Pedro, Father Algio, the old 
Widow Prasko herself, and the rest of them, 
as fast as they could for eating and drinking 
the choicer morsels and wines with which 
they were specially plied by their admiring 
boon companions. It was wonderful how 
many people had known the King intimately 
during those few weeks with how many he 
had held long and confidential conversation 
about the politics of Alsander. It was curious 
how not one of them had been deceived an 
instant by his story of being an Englishman. 
Whoever heard of a foreigner who spoke 
Alsandrian ! Of course, he pretended to speak 
it badly: how wise and clever and beautiful 
he was ! They had heard to-day how he could 
speak the language and so forth, and so 
forth. 

Those who had really known the King were 
full, too, of the brightest fancies. What 
honours and rewards would be showered on 
them for the little services they had ren- 
dered? One poor, penniless fellow, who had 



PRINCESS IANTHE 213 

once shown Norman the way, put on the most 
ridiculous airs after a few glasses of strong 
red wine. He was already enjoying the fruits 
of a fine pension, and wandering through the 
palace courts in cloth of gold. 

Only Peronella sat in absolute silence by 
her mother's side. Not a word would she 
answer to any question, despite the harsh 
rebukes of her expansive parent. She sat and 
drank rather much and ate almost nothing. 
All those around her affected to understand 
her mood and ceased to trouble her with 
questions. It was plain the King had broken 
her heart. Well, was it not the high tradition 
of Royalty to break the hearts of humble 
women ? thought the men of Alsander. Could 
the King have chosen a lovelier girl ? Doubt- 
less the King would see her again and not 
desert her quite absolutely for ever. The 
flower-like Peronella was made to be a Royal 
Mistress. The men of Alsander praised her 
beauty, her reticence and her air of sorrow, 
which they conceived to be if not genuine at 
least most nobly affected, while the women 
of Alsander were consumed with the most 
passionate jealousy and envy of the poor 
girl. But what of Peronella ? 

Peronella was a girl with a simple soul, but 
the simplest of souls is, after all, according to 
the idealists, a more wondrous and complex 
tiling than the mechanism of the latest 



214 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

Dreadnought. A soul, being alive, grows and 
changes. Peronella had to-day discovered that 
she loved Norman with all the love her soul 
could give and only simple folk like her can 
give all their souls to love. She had no pre- 
occupation with the world save to find therein 
a man to love, and she had found Norman. 
And now he was gone from her taken far 
away. She knew her lover had abandoned her 
for ever ! 

She had become a woman. It was not this 
sudden Royalty that made her love the boy 
who so few weeks ago had come to her singing 
over the mountain height. It was the shock 
of it all and the separation. For others 
might believe this tale. Others and they 
became many as the wine flowed round might 
whisper dark whispers, and swear that it was 
incredible that this bright northern-faced 
boy should be a Kradenda, and hint of a 
cunning and tremendous plot. But she alone 
of all the uninitiated folk of Alsander knew 
with the sure and instinctive knowledge of a 
woman for an absolute certainty that the 
re-coronation was a farce and that Norman 
was no more King of Alsander than she was 
Queen. And the sorrow on her face was but 
the genuine reflection of the agony of her 
soul, but her agony was not for her country's 
misfortune but for a lover lost. 

But meanwhile the feast was progress- 



PRINCESS IANTHE 215 

ing, and a clamour arose that made one think 
more of Flanders and the north and the gross 
banquets of Jordaens than of southern fru- 
gality and moderation. 

The King, in the dark green uniform of an 
Alsandrian Colonel, with Vorza, Sforelli, the 
nobles, their ladies, our old friend the British 
Consul (in a cocked hat) and his colleagues, 
each of whom hoped shortly to acquire the 
title of Minister to so energetic a Court, were 
seated, together with a few very distinguished 
correspondents of great newspapers, who had 
been invited to the Royal board by special 
request, at a long table under the open gates, 
beneath the door of the castle. Arnolfo had 
not reappeared. The general conversation 
was lively and elegant: but Norman whose 
ostensible knowledge of the world had to be 
confined to the castle walls, a few books, a 
few weeks in Alsander, and a year in a 
" home " in England, hardly dared open his 
mouth. This need of caution, this forced lying 
masquerade, and a longing not only for Peron- 
ella, but also for the companionship of the 
strange young man who alone seemed to 
have the power of turning life into a furious 
and careless dream made him so gloomy 
that Vorza was very frightened lest in some 
uncanny outbreak of revived mania the King 
should hurl his plate at the head of his newly- 
appointed Lord Chamberlain. Nevertheless, 



216 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

this sullen reserve which the King displayed 
suited the part he had to play (as an interest- 
ing example of scientific progress) to perfec- 
tion. When, however, at times he woke 
up from his pensive and melancholy medita- 
tions, he was possessed with a sort of odd 
feeling that he must give the newspaper gen- 
tlemen some copy, and would talk gravely 
of the careful reforms he would make in 
the drainage of the city, the paving of the 
streets and the training of the militia, or 
sigh for his wasted youth with intense pathos, 
saying, too, how glad he would be when these 
formalities were over and he could tour round 
his dominions, " which are, despite a few 
weeks' residence in the city itself, as strange 
to me, sir," he said, addressing the special 
correspondent of the Daily Mail, " as they 
are to you." Towards the end of the meal, 
he was seized by an idea which comforted 
him, and became suddenly so gay that the 
doctor trembled for his dignity and, pretend- 
ing to be concerned for his still precarious 
health, advised him in an audible whisper 
not to tire himself by too much lively con- 
versation. 

After the enormous repast was at length 
ended, the guests scattered for a digestive 
interval preliminary to the splendid dance 
which was to end the day. The doctor regaled 
some ecstatic Ulmreich medicine men with 



PRINCESS IANTHE 217 

tales, all in the strictest confidence, of the 
surprising operations that had been performed 
on the King, while the King walked round 
with Vorza, asking the delighted Duke many 
questions about the government and still 
more about the evening's ceremonial. 

tc Of course I rely on you, my Lord Cham- 
berlain," he explained, " for all ceremonial 
details. Though, alas! you have no experi- 
ence in your duties, you have, I feel sure, that 
exquisite tact which as the great Court his- 
torian Brasaldo says, is the exclusive birthright 
of ancient and honourable families." 

Vorza bowed. 

"Now, I believe there is to be a dance to- 
night as soon as the tables have been re- 
moved." 

" The musicians should be here in an 
hour's time, your Majesty." 

:< They will be good musicians, I hope." 

" I believe so, Sire. They are world re- 
nowned." 

" Now, my Lord, when the last King was 
crowned, as I read once in Brasaldo's history 
one of the very few books I have read all 
through ..." 

Vorza bowed again, in deference, perhaps, 
to such heroic perseverance. 

" The last King my father, I mean, whom 
I remember but faintly, for I was such a little 
boy when the trouble came danced, I believe, 



218 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

in accordance with traditional custom with 
several of the fairest maidens of the town." 

Vorza was quite reassured by this token of 
the Royal sanity, and bowed again. 

" Now, of course, for me all thoughts of 
woman's loveliness have no charm: I am too 
inexperienced, alas ! What a youth I have had 
I have had none, rather. But since the cere- 
mony is old and picturesque I should like to 
revive it." 

" But, Sire, between me and your Majesty, 
you have not had time to learn to dance." 

This was unexpected, but Norman rose to 
the occasion. 

" You know little of England and modern 
curative establishments," he said. " The 
regime of the whip and straight waistcoat is 
over, thank God, or you would not have 
the pleasure of my company to-night. Three 
days' sojourn is not quite enough for that 
wonderful country, my lord." 

Vorza smiled, but sinister thoughts passed 
through his heart. 

" It must have been a marvellous place 
indeed, Sire, this home to which the good 
luck of Alsander sent you. But will you never 
tell the secret of its locality ? For it would be 
only right, between me and your Ma j esty , to hon- 
our the wise director with a national tribute." 

"It is not his desire," said Norman, 
briefly. " But with regard to this dance to- 



PRINCESS IANTHE 219 

night, I want to know my people. I propose 
that the dance should be promiscuous, and I 
will join it myself." 

" That is quite in accordance with the best 
traditions of Alsander, your Majesty," said 
Vorza, and he promised to make the an- 
nouncement in due form. 

Vorza left him, and for a moment he stood 
alone and looked round on the scene of revel, 
and at that moment the uproar of gross 
feeders and drinkers seemed to pause a 
second, drowned in the vast fullness of the 
jasmine night. Then the musicians began 
from their bower among the shadowy plane 
trees glorious musicians, and so glorious a 
music that not a man would dare to dance 
to it, for all that the orders were that none 
should wait for the Bang. All listened im- 
mobile: only the Japanese lights and those 
further lights the stars dared to start off 
dancing to such a tune. All the new power 
and subtlety of modern music seemed to 
have blended with the grand traditions of 
olden days to make this lovely melody: yet 
the melody was a waltz a waltz-tune that 
the simplest could understand and that set 
the body dancing. Another instant and the 
spell broke: the music became human and the 
whole square which the carpenters had turned 
into a vast dancing floor, was alive with 
couples, and seemed itself to turn. 



220 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

And the great sense of the unreality of the 
world again took possession of Norman. It 
seemed to him that he was a King indeed 
but a true King, the King in a fairy story, and 
might do what he will. If he was to pla,y this 
splendid part, he would not play as a modern 
King a tired, frock-coated slave of weari- 
some Ministers. He would be a King of Yvetot, 
of Atlantis, of the Indian Isles. He would 
dance with Peronella was it not the old 
custom that he should dance with the fairest 
of his subjects? Would he not be the more 
beloved for his boldness ? If he were not, 
what matter ? The girl should be his mistress 
that night; to his great golden room he would 
lead her, and for one night he would celebrate 
Aphrodite. Was it not for this that she had 
been sent by destiny to meet him swinging 
her pails beside the spring on that immortal 
morning ? Was it not for this one night that he 
had played the supremest farce that ever a 
man played ? 

He started to find her, motioning away 
those that would accompany him. He soon 
caught sight of her, a little way off seated 
alone on a bench, as though she awaited him, 
and looking towards him with her eyes 
shining in the light of the lamp. His heart 
beat, and he trembled as he had never done 
through all his play-acting. He knew still that 
to steal a maiden's honour was a greater enter- 



PRINCESS IANTHE 221 

prise than to ravish a throne. He knew he 
had but one step further to take toward the 
girl, who sat there trembling with love to 
receive him. His foot was light on the ground 
to take that step for what to a King is all 
the world ? 

Yet at that moment a hand was laid on his 
arm to arrest him. He looked round, and saw 
Arnolfo. The boy was clothed as ever in Al- 
sandrian dress but of a darker hue: he was 
cloaked, and the silver buckles of his belt 
gleamed beneath the rich and sombre mantle. 
In this raiment, at such an hour, he looked 
paler than the moon, and strangely moved, 
yet resolute as death. 

Norman knew why Arnolfo had laid the 
hand on his arm: he saw the will and deter- 
mination on the boy's face: he knew that his 
scheme was known, and that it was to be frus- 
trated. He swung round on his heel. " Leave 
me ! " he said with passion, but his voice was 
not that of a King who rules the world, but of 
an angry boy. 

44 Did I not tell you to keep from women, 
my King," pursued Arnolfo. 44 Surely I am 
only just in time." 

"It is too late ! Your dramatic interven- 
tions are useless. I go where I please. You 
should not have left me in the lurch all these 
days if you wished to remain my mentor. I 
am master now. Leave me: we are not un- 



222 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

observed: you are making me ridiculous before 
my subjects." 

" My King, I implore you as a friend, come 
away with me," said Arnolfo in a voice 
strangely passionate. 

" A friend are you ? You have made a fool 
of me for ever. I have got to play-act all my 
life. You have stolen from me my love, my 
liberty and my youth. You have left me alone 
to carry through the most perilous portion 
of this mad enterprise, and now, when I want 
to rescue a few moments of joy from the ruin 
of my life, you say, * Friend ! Friend ! ' Let me 
go, I tell you ! Let me enjoy the glory of exist- 
ence for one hour before you shut me in your 
dismal prison of lies for ever ! " 

And Norman pointed to the grim, dark, 
towering walls of the palace of Kradenda. 

But Arnolfo, with that magic power that 
never failed to influence Norman to influence 
him so deeply that it seemed able at times to 
sap his very manhood and honour for, 
after all, he had suffered the utmost degrada- 
tion at this boy's command Arnolfo had 
already drawn Norman away and Norman 
was following him, why, he knew not, to- 
wards the palace. 

" Come, Norman," said Arnolfo, in that 
low and honeyed voice of his, "a friend is 
better than a lover, as love is better .than 

lUBt." 






PRINCESS IANTHE 223 

" For Kings ! " exclaimed Norman, but 
whether as a question or in bitter acquies- 
cence was not certain from the sound of his 
voice. 

" come with me a minute," said Arnolfo, 
pretending still to plead and drawing Norman 
further and further at each step from Briseis. 
" All your happiness may depend on that. 
Will you ruin yourself and Alsander for a 
pretty face ? Are you going to play tyrant and 
drag her from the arms of her lover ? ' 

u Damnation on duty and on you and all 
this farce ! " replied the King, muttering low 
as he turned for a last look at the girl who, 
still visible, was now standing with bowed 
jhead, her arm around a young sapling 
land still alone. " Were it not for your fool's 
I mummery I might have had that girl in my 
arms. Look at her: is she not beautiful enough 
for you, my artist? Are not these lips red 
enough for the Sultan of the Indies? Where 
Is the lover from whose arms I should 
drag her? Leave me, Arnolfo. Must I forget 
my youth." 

" Give me one half -hour alone in the 
palace. After that, you shall be free of my 
interference for ever and return to your love if 
you so desire. I swear it. But come now. There 
is ... danger. Ah, Norman, can you not read 
sincerity in the eyes ? " 

Involuntarily Norman looked at the boy 



224 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

and saw in his eyes a light so strange that he 
was troubled. The charm of Arnolfo had 
already compelled him: but now his very 
passion surrendered to it. Without more com- 
plaint, he broke with him through the crowd, 
which opened to let him pass. 

None ventured to attend them. The guards 
seemed to Norman to show as much deference 
in their salutes to Arnolfo as to himself. They 
went alone together to a little room in the 
tower, where a lamp was hanging simply to 
aid in the general illumination, for the room 
was empty and unfurnished. 

" Well," said Norman turning on his friend 
with some fierceness, " tell me your story." 

The boy flushed a little. " There is no story," 
he said. 

" But you said there was danger in what I 
intended to do. Not that I mind, but tell me 
what you meant." 

" You neither were nor are in any danger." 

" Then why, in God's name," cried Norman 
" did you bring me here ? " 

Arnolfo put a finger to his lips and leant 
over the stone window-sill to gaze at the 
crowded square. " You ask why I brought you 
here, Bang of Alsander," he whispered to 
Norman, who stood over him. " Oh, can you 
not yourself discover why ? Can you draw no 
inspirations from the world around you ? Will 
nothing but brutal speech make you under- 



PRINCESS IANTHE 225 

stand? Cannot music suggest to you the 
truth, or the rustle of leaves, or the murmur of 
men down there that makes audible the silence 
of the stars ? Is there no subtler essence in 
nature or your own soul ready to vibrate ? 
Has not the Universe a dumb but smiling 
mouth to say why I brought you here ? ' ! 

" Heavens, what weird nonsense you are 
talking " said Norman, catching the boy's arm, 
" Can you not speak straight ? Or what new 
web of perplexity are you weaving for my de- 
struction ? ' ! 

" Leave me," said the boy with a gasp, as 
though Norman's clutch on his arm had hurt 
him. " Leave me: I will go: you shall never 
see me again. Keep your peasant girl, Norman 
Price: who shall blame you ? Real kings have 
fared far worse." 

" I want to know what you meant about 
the silence," said Norman looking curiously 
into his friend's pale face and expressive eyes. 
" And what my peasant girl has got to do with 
you." 

" How can you stand almost touching me ! " 
cried Arnolf o, leaping up from the window and 
facing Norman with a sort of indignation. 
" How can you put your hand on my arm 
and still not know and still be such a fool! 
Arid they talk of instinct! I am ashamed 
at my failure. Ah, how did I dare bring you 
here ? " 



226 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

And turning again to the window Arnolfo 
buried his face in his hands and wept. 

" Why, you strange creature, what have 
you got to weep f or ? " cried Norman in dismay, 
" You trouble me with your strange ways to- 
night. I swear if you are unhappy I will do my 
best to comfort you; but do speak straight 
out, and do above all be a man." 

The boy looked up, and through his tears he 
smiled, and then through his tears he laughed. 
And then he simply laughed very prettily and 
held out his right hand. 

" Look at my hand a minute," he said. 

Norman took the proffered hand and 
examined it with great embarrassment and 
wonder. " It is a very small hand," he said; 
" but I don't see what is the matter with it." 

Then at last suspicion flashed across his 
mind. " Ah, you don't mean that ! " he cried, 
suddenly dropping the hand and starting 
back. 

" Good God," laughed Arnolfo rather wildly. 
" I can't think of any more hints to give you, 
barbarian ! Must I strip to the waist ? " 

Norman gasped. " If you really are a woman, 
Arnolfo," he exclaimed, " I would much 
prefer that you did." 

Then he stood motionless before her and for 
a time the two faced each other without a 
word, the King with his hand on the hilt of his 
sword, and the woman clasping across her 



PRINCESS IANTHE 227 

body the great mantle, as though to preserve 
even at this hour, the virginity of her disguise. 

" I am the Princess lanthe," she said at last, 
with a dignity which the travesty could not 
obscure. 

" You are a very beautiful woman," re- 
joined Norman, bending to kiss her hand. 
Then, looking at her with a rather inscrutable 
smile which strangely aged his youthful face, 
he added: " but I bitterly regret the loss of 
Arnolfo." 

The Princess hung her head a little and 
seemed almost the boy again. " Is that all you 
have to say ? " she murmured, " and yet there 
is nothing I would rather you had said than 
that." 

" It was for Arnolfo I adventured on this 
enterprise," pursued the King gravely, " for 
his friendship I ruined my life to become a 
mummer and a thief. And now the pantomime 
continues and there is no Arnolfo." 

' But you have lanthe's friendship," cried 
the Princess, " as you had Arnolfo's." 

He shook his head. " Friendship with a 
woman is not a sport for kings." 

" But such a friendship as ours," she re- 
joined, " cannot be broken by an epigram." 

" It is broken," affirmed the King. " The 
days of friendship are irrevocably over. And I 
have no reason to think, Princess, although 
you singled me out to rule your country, and 

Q2 



228 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

although I, when I found you a woman, was 
stirred with something that was not only 
wonder, that the halcyon days are near. And 
yet I am speaking to you straight, Princess, 
in the English way if you do not think we 
shall become more than friends I shall leave 
you and Alsander to-night for ever, and see 
what fresh adventures await me in the teeming 
world. Maybe some other country will greet 
me as its King and a princess only a little less 
beautiful than you, in a realm a little more 
fabulous than Alsander, will offer me her heart 
and hand. But I will simply laugh and go back 
home to England. One day of kingship has 
been enough for me." 

" And is that all you have to say to a woman 
who has given you a Crown and to a people 
who are awaiting their King ? Have you no 
fire, no pride ? " 

"I have a sense of honour," replied the 
King gravely. "For listen to me. You have 
given me a crown of gold, and it is a crown of 
thorns. You have made me a mock King. I am 
already weary, unutterably weary. What care 
I for Alsander? Is not a hedgerow in my 
native land lovelier than all its cypress trees ? 
What care I for ruling save to be the master 
of a straight young woman, and lord of a 
country farm ? On one condition only will I 
consent to endure this foolery one more day, 
and that is on condition that vou the 



PRINCESS IANTHE 229 

heiress of Alsander become rightfully my 
Queen, for all that I am an English grocer 
boy. I am no fool, Princess, and I may dare 
to hope that you will accept this condition, 
for I think some such project has been in 
your mind all the time, through all this queer 
history. But I have a second condition, which 
is harder, and that condition is this: that if 
you love me, I will be your King. If you love 
me with all your heart and soul, as I love you, 
and only in that case, then we will rule our 
land together. And if not, lanthe, bid farewell 
to me to-night for you will never see me 
again. The masquerade is over: speak truth 
to me at last." 

" You are right ! " said the Princess. " Must 
we talk like fanciful children and waste words, 
we on whom depends the fate of thousands, 
we the rulers of Alsander! You have made 
your conditions: I accept the first. I will be 
your Queen, in name and in deed, if you will. 
The Princess lanthe, King of Alsander, has 
also a sense of honour. I have made you a false 
King I alone can make you a true King, the 
consort of the legitimate Princess of Alsander. 
I offer to be your Queen." 

" But my second condition your love, 
Princess lanthe ? " 

" What do you mean by love ? Is it my 
body you mean by my love ? I owe it to you 
if you desire it. It shall be yours I have 



230 THE KING OP ALSANDER 

promised to be your Queen. Or is it that, 
together with my true and loyal friendship 
you desire ? That also shall be yours, though 
you have rejected it, for all my life long." 

" I want your love, your true love, your 
deep love, the love of all your soul," said the 
King in a low voice, gazing into her brown 
eyes. 

" Ah ! that is not mine to command." 

" Will it never be mine to command, 
lanthe ? Speak truth. If it will never be mine, 
I will not be King of Alsander." 

" You are almost wooing me," exclaimed 
the Princess, laughing a little nervously, 
" and I rather wish I were dressed for the part. 
But is it not rather fantastic to claim my love 
without offering your own? And is it not 
rather insolent," she added abruptly, as 
though a flash of memory had caused a flash 
of rage, "for a man who has given his heart 
to a peasant girl to demand the love of a 
Princess ? " 

" You are insincere in your reproaches," 
replied the King. " You know from the very 
sound of my words that I have forgotten all 
the women of the world but you. You know I 
stand on the threshold of Love's house: but 
how do I know if you will ever join me, to 
enter side by side ? " 

lanthe laid her hands lightly on the King's 
shoulder. " You will not win me before you 



PRINCESS IANTHE 231 

woo, ungallant heart ! " said she. " But if the 
day comes when you decide that I am worthy 
of your attentions, remember that my love, 
like that of fairy Princesses of China or of Ind, 
must be won by high achievement. It may be 
that I could, like a woman without shame, cry 
out this very hour, ' I love you,' were it not that 
my heart is lost already, pledged to a passion 
which surpasses all love I can feel for man. 
My body's love I will gladly give to whoever, 
like you, is beautiful and young, my friendship 
to whoever, like you, is gentle and wise, but 
my soul's love is my love for the Holy City of 
Alsander. There is not a court or a garden, not 
a stone of the cobbles of Alsander over which 
I would not slaughter the lover of my body 
or the friend who kept my thoughts if that 
would keep these holy streets from pollution 
and slavery. I love this country as no one has 
ever loved it before, save he who made it, my 
forefather, the great Kradenda. Its air is to 
me a more pellucid air, its rocks more ancient, 
its sea more blue, its flowers more fragrant 
than other airs and rocks and seas and flowers. 
And if a man would desire to have part of this 
deep love and even with a part of it to be 
loved as no hero was ever loved in days of 
old by the great-bosomed women of the 
Greeks, then that man must become part of 
Alsander. He must fight, work, strive, for 
the glory of the kingdom. He would have his 



232 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

reward: for I am not a capricious woman but 
one whose heart is true, girl as I am. 

" But do not answer me now: the minutes 
are flying on: your subjects will miss you: we 
must go out again into the square. Quick ! I 
hear no more the dancers laughing and the 
splendid music has ceased sighing among the 
stars; they are waiting for their Bang to join 
them. Listen ! The Cathedral bells of Alsander 
are tolling the midnight hour." 



233 

CHAPTER XV 
PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 

Creep, and let no more be said. 

Matthew Arnold. 

THE prolonged absence of the King having 
given rise to no small anxiety, there was 
universal relief at his reappearance, and he 
was welcomed with uproarious cheers as he 
stepped out of the palace gates, preceded by 
the Royal torchbearers. The King regretted 
to those of his notable guests whom he chanced 
to meet that affairs of State should have de- 
manded his attention even on so holiday an 
evening. Sf orelli also, by the Royal command, 
told Vorza to let it be known quietly that the 
King's health would not permit of his dancing 
that evening. To counteract the disappoint- 
ment of this announcement, the King went 
round, with " Arnolfo " in attendance, among 
his subjects, conversing kindly with them 
and especially with those who were already 
his acquaintance. And seeing Peronella 
clinging to her mother, the widow, he did 
not hesitate, but went up to the couple, 
and after thanking the old lady for the excel- 
lent care she had taken of her " Englishman," 



234 THE KING OP ALSANDER 

he praised her cooking, especially of beans and 
potatoes, and the softness of her linen, and 
the charm of her daughter. He then asked 
them both to come and pay him a visit in the 
course of the week. But not by a look, a sign, 
or a glance did he show to Peronella that he 
still loved or even that he still wanted her. 
In her new wisdom, born of bitterness of 
heart, the girl understood that her day was 
over, and inwardly she cursed Norman, and 
the mysterious young man at his side, who 
had so often taken him away from her, and 
the day that she was born. 

" Ah, Norman," said lanthe, as they left 
the group, in her low and gentle tones, " I see 
you are playing the game bravely. But you 
must play it as if you loved it, for it is a game 
for the glory of Alsander if you do not love 
Alsander you cannot love its Queen; and if 
you do love Alsander, then, perhaps but, 
hush ! There is Vorza, dodging us round the 
statue." 

The King beckoned to Vorza, who had just 
appeared from behind the pedestal of the 
statue of Kradenda, and was walking appa- 
rently in meditation. The Duke bowed. " Your 
Majesty," he said. 

The King felt that an explanation of his 
apparently intimate converse with young 
Arnolf o was needed. 

" Count Vorza," he said, pleasantly, " this 



PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 235 

f oung man, for all that he is the most charm- 
ng of young men and a friend of yours and 
mine, is importunate. It is only my coronation 
lay my first evening of reign and he is 
already trying to interest me in affairs of 
State." 

" He is misguided but young," said Vorza, 
Tying to catch the King's amiable tone of 
>anter. 

" He is misguided and young," echoed the 
Sjng. " I have also noted in him a certain 
lightiness, eccentricity and weakness of pur- 
pose. But it seems he also has ambition." 

" Ambition ! ' ! said Vorza, genuinely 
startled. " I have known him as the gayest and 
most delightful young man in Alsander, but 
he is surely not interested in affairs of State ! " 

" We have been deceived, Count Vorza. 
He is an enthusiast. He hopes to reform us all. 
He desires a post in the government." 

" Surely he would be out of his element 
in serious affairs if your Majesty and the 
gracious subject of our conversation will 
pardon my saying so ! " 

" I do not know, Vorza; I do not know. 
We need enthusiasts, we need youth. His 
father, however mistaken in his views, is an 
able man, and the ability may be inherited. 
I should like to give him a place in the govern- 
ment but what place? I ask your advice, 
my Lord Chamberlain." 



236 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" I have no hesitation in giving it, your 
Majesty. My poor experience is always at your 
service and the service of the country. If any 
government post be given to this young man, 
it must be the Ministry of Fine Arts a post 
which I am sure he would fill with distinction " 

" I am entirely of your opinion, Count 
Vorza. The appointment shall be gazetted 
to-morrow." 

Upon which the Count withdrew, medita- 
tive but not gloomy. If such young fools were 
to be the King's favourites, there would be 
ample opportunity for him to continue wield- 
ing the supreme power in Alsander. For a 
moment he forgot his suspicions as he dreamt 
the dreams of a man whose ambition age has 
sharpened instead of dulled. 

But late that night when guests and popu- 
lace (as it had been arranged for the sake of the 
King's supposed weak health) had dispersed, 
Vorza, as he jogged home in his carriage, 
and looked back on the events of the day, was 
again seized with the conviction that both he 
and Alsander had been the victims of a 
childish, simple and audacious hoax. He raged 
inwardly. Suppose it were found out by some 
outsider, and he he, the wise Vorza were 
shown to have been miserably fooled by an 
English jester and a Jew doctor ? Was young 
Arnolfo a plotter, too had he secret instruc- 
tions from his old scoundrel of a father ? Ei- 



PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 237 

;her, Vorza determined, the hoax must remain 
pnexposed or he must expose it. Pacing the 
Ijuiet flags of his great hall he passed the hours 
kill morning. 

Meanwhile the King had formally dismissed 
his guests, none of whom were staying in the 
pastle, which, despite the efforts of plumbers, 
bcullions, chambermaids and upholsterers, 
could only just accommodate with decency 
the King himself. As he entered the great gate 
the guard fell back, and he suddenly dis- 
covered with a queer thrill that the boy- 
princess had appeared from nowhere in parti- 
cular and that they were walking together in 
the palace garden, the little ruined garden of 
King Basilandron, which at night, now that 
the little summer-houses and temples had all 
their graceful lines traced out with rows of 
fairy lamps, had an air not of decay but rather 
of mystery and sweetness, so tangled were its 
bowers, so heavy hung the scent of roses in 
the air. Norman trembled, feeling the enchant- 
ment of the moonlight and all the fear that 
comes with the birth of passion ; but he listened 
in silence to the silvery accents of the Princess 
as she told her tale. 

It seems the admirable old Count Arnolfo 
wras, as the Princess had described him to 
Norman when she pretended to be his son, 
sent to Alsander on a patriotic mission. The 
real son existed, but had been in America for 



238 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

many years; the real father was, as the Prin- 
cess had depicted him, an ardent patriot, a 
man, however, of liberal views. He let the 
Princess run fairly wild shocking a good deal 
the other little Royal households with whom 
they came into contact and giving rise thereby 
to the legends of her wildness that had reached 
even Alsander. But, naturally enough, even his 
liberal and easy mind would not have con- 
templated the possibility of his charge roam- 
ing Alsander in boy's attire. What old Count 
Arnolfo had done, however, was to sanction 
the Princess to make a journey incognito (not, 
indeed, that such a very unimportant and 
impoverished Princess would have been much 
disturbed by adventurers) with her trusty 
governess, Miss Johnson. Old Arnolfo was 
getting too old to wander far from home, but 
he felt all the same that the Princess ought tc 
have a course of good, healthy eye-opening 
travel in the English fashion. 

They were to go anywhere they liked except 
and the old man warned them like Bluebeard 
admonishing his wives except into the king- 
dom of Alsander. And of course, like Blue- 
beard's wife, lanthe was fired with a resolve 
to go. But she did not know how to carry 
out the resolve, though she often thought 
of simply going and leaving Miss Johnson to 
her fate. It was the thought of getting pool 
Miss Johnson into trouble that prevented hex 



PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 239 

from carrying out this plan rather than any 
fear of the difficulties of the enterprise. So 
the Princess kept quiet and toured the helpless 
Miss Johnson round, and wrote at regular 
intervals letters to her guardian full of 
admirable descriptions of the places and 
monuments visited, culled from Baedeker's 
well-known hand-books. In the monotony of 
luxurious travel she all but forgot Alsander. 
But one night (and as she began to say one 
night, Norman, who had cared little to hear 
the long story, was caught to attention by the 
music of her words) one night in London 
she leant out of her window and watched the 
Thames shining in the light of the moon. All 
the dark chimneys across the water were 
dancing in the moonlight like heavenly 
towers: and she almost loved the city that 
till then had seemed so hateful and so dark 
that she could not understand why men suf- 
fered to dwell therein. Then down the embank- 
ment came a man singing but what was he 
singing? Not the latest infamy of the halls, 
nor yet a hearty British ballad but the Song 
of the Black Swans of the Kradenda which 
every Alsandrian knows and loves. The 
Binger passed beneath her window: she cried 
out, " Who goes there singing Alsandrian in 
the City of London ? '' Miss Johnson was 
shocked. The singer replied in English, " Who 
speaks to me in Alsandrian in a voice that is 



240 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

like a song ? ' ! Looking more closely, the 
Princess saw the singer to be a venerable and 
beautiful old man. 

"I am an Alsandrian: speak English no 
more," she replied to his question. 

" Ah ! but I must speak English," said the 
stranger. 

" But why?" 

" Because I am an Englishman, fair lady of 
Alsander," replied the poet, for it was he, as 
Norman had already guessed. 

A little disappointed, as she confessed, the 
Princess told how, nevertheless, she called the 
poet to come in and see her, and to a scanda- 
lized protest from Miss Johnson merely re- 
joined that if he might not come in through 
the door he should enter through the window. 

It was the poet, then, who arranged the 
secret visit of lanthe to Alsander. It was he 
who suggested her disguise, he who made 
friends for her in Alsander who could be 
trusted with the great secret, he who managed 
Miss Johnson. This latter superhuman task he 
managed heaven knows how. But I think the 
little old lady was a romantic and would have 
come, too, had it not been necessary for her to 
continue the tour and post from various 
illustrious towns the charming letters which 
the Princess with the poet's aid (to lighten 
the touch of Baedeker) composed beforehand 
ready for the post. " And so ends my tale," 



PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 241 

concluded the Princess. " Three days ago 
Sf orelli, at my request, informed my guardian 
of all the amazing truth: and he (stern old 
man !) without one comment, has ordered me 
back. I must obey. I leave to-night. Here ends 
the masquerade ! " 

"Poor masquerade!" cried Norman. "Is 
it here the curtain falls? Whatever be the 
strong and radiant drama of our lives on which 
it shall rise again, I regret the masquerade ! " 

Their footsteps ceased upon the garden 
path. The moonlight flung their stilly shadows 
to the tattered roses. On the pediment of 
Love's plaster Temple one fairy light still 
palely glimmered in the vast white splendour 
of chaste Artemis. A nightingale trilled once, 
then fell a-dreaming. And through the boy's 
learned soul passed murmurs of ages far 
estranged, which yet blended together and 
took on a nature of their own a clear dim 
note of the Athenian lyre, hinting beneath all 
artificial chords the melody of the earth and 
of truth, a gavotte by Lully or Rameau, a 
laugh of Heine, or songs they sang at the 
Cremorne Gardens, twenty years ago. He felt 
the moonlit sky, the ruined bowers, the 
Temple and the roses dwindle and shapen 
into the scenery of a stage as though the 
girl in travesty before him had made a mock- 
ery of all the linked worlds. Then suddenly he 
knew. 



242 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" Columbine," he said, " you will not leave 
me thus ? " 

She stepped away from him lightly, arms 
akimbo. 

" And what are you to me, Pierrot ? " she 
cried; " or Columbine to you ? ' ! 

" To me," he answered, " you are the colour 
of the soul of the marble statues, and the 
shape of the movement of the gliding moon." 

" Like her," she laughed, " I shine falsely 
and I shine pale. Like her, to you I am only a 
shape that is no shape and a colour that is no 
colour." 

" I will chase you from shape to shape," re- 
plied the young King. " I will pursue you from 
hue to hue ; though you change to a slim gazelle 
or silver fish or a little seed of corn. And when I 
have conquered you at last, and held you, and 
driven you to your true and pristine form, 
then victorious, as now vanquished, will I 
swear eternal passion at your feet." 

And he knelt on one knee before her. 

"Why, Pierrot!" she whispered, "you 
said you would not love me yet ! " 

" But that," he replied, " was three hours 
ago." 

" Pursue me no more, Pierrot," she warned 
him. "The moon has tricked your eye: the 
scents of the garden have deceived your heart. 
Am I not still Arnolfo ? am I not still a boy ? " 

" Columbine," he replied, " I am pleading 



PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 243 

for love. Answer me now, tell me my doom, 
torment me no longer, for I hear approaching 
the fiery wheels of your departure." 

" Oh, what a thirst for words you have," 
sighed she. " Stay there on your knees in 
silence, impatient, importunate Pierrot, and 
wait till I choose to answer." 

4; They have come to take you away ! " he 
cried. " Your dragon is roaring at the gate. 
Your answer, Columbine ! " 

" Oh, stay there kneeling as I bid you," she 
cried, " and forget your thirst for words. Was 
it your mother, boy, who gave you eyes that 
colour in the night? Stay there and do not 
speak or raise your glance till you hear my 
dragon rolling me away and let me give you, 
in my own fashion, the silent answer of my 
farew r ell." 

She spake, and the very dragon ceased to 
roar, as though even his steely heart recog- 
nized the bell-like voice of his mistress, com- 
manding silence throughout the world. 
Haunted with expectation Norman bowed his 
eyes: soon he felt her presence bending over 
him its wings. Softly her arm stole across his 
shoulder, and suddenly, to his great wonder, 
fell over his cheek a wave of the soft and 
fragrant hair he had never seen; and on his 
lips she answered him. 

Too soon she was gone: but he obeyed her 
to the end; ecstasy which had snatched his 

B2 



244 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

spirit out into the realms of fire, had left his 
body frozen like ice and statues and the moon. 
He listened immobile to her step fading down 
the garden: he heard the rumour of her de- 
parture. Then he rose and like a man whom 
life has forgotten, he walked slowly back to 
his royal home. 



But as for Peronella, she, poor girl, had 
made her way home early enough, clinging to 
her mother, not heeding the pity, envy, 
laughter or ridicule of the revellers, dozens of 
whom pointed to her to make their comment 
so famous was she now. On her arrival she 
paid no attention to her mother's attempts to 
reassure her (which consisted in the reflection 
that no harm had been done, and the assertion 
that the King would provide her with a mag- 
nificent dowry), but rushing to her room, as 
ten thousand million disappointed maids have 
done before, she flung herself on the bed and 
burst into tears. Then she opened her box and 
took out a letter. A little slip may ruin a great 
cause, and the conspirators, who had thought 
to make all their plans so neatly and com- 
pletely, had forgotten about letters. And this 
was a letter, with a British postmark and 
addressed to Norman Price. 

" All Alsander may be deceived," cried 
Peronella to herself. " But I'll be even with 



PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 245 

the liar." Peronella, after a moment's hesi- 
tation, opened the letter with a little knife, 
cunningly, so that it could be sealed again. 
It was, of course, in English, so she could 
not understand it. She put it under her pillow 
with a peasant's caution, and cried herself to 
sleep. 

The next morning she found Father Algio 
whom she sought at the confessional. 

" You do well to come to me," said the 
priest, kindly. " You have been away too 
long." 

"Ah! father," said Peronella, with a not 
quite honest sigh. 

" The ways of Princes are not our ways, 
Peronella, and hard is the lot of the women 
whose path they cross." 

"Princes? " said Peronella. "Do you be- 
lieve that tale? A Prince that Englishman 
who said he loved me ? " 

" What do you mean, my daughter ? Which 
tale ? v 

" Do you believe that that Englishman who 
came to stay with us was our King Andrea ? ' ! 

" But who ever doubted it, girl ? " rejoined 
the old priest, pretending greater astonish- 
ment than he felt, for, after all, similar ques- 
tions had been in the hearts of many. " In 
that he came to Alsander in secret for a few 
days before his accession we all count it for 
great wisdom on his part. You must be mad, 



246 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

girl, to talk such treason. Could all our rulers 
be lying to us ? v 

" Well, read this letter," said Peronella. 
" I cannot, for it is in English. It is addressed 
to him under the name he had when he was 
with me. It arrived after he left." 

The worthy priest, who had been expecting 
a sad confession of deviation from the straight 
path of virtue, was more shocked than he 
would have been at any weakness of the flesh, 
at this manifestation of coldness, pettiness 
and deceit. (He need not be therefore accused 
of having hoped for a romantic tale. His long 
experience told him that small sins were some- 
times worse than great ones.) 

" Give me the letter," he said. Taking it, he 
addressed the girl severely. " You have com- 
mitted many sins," he said. " You have 
sinned in stupidly doubting your lawful King ; 
in thinking yourself cleverer than all the rest 
of Alsander; in taking a letter, which was not 
yours; in opening that letter and in attempting 
to disclose its contents to another. I shall 
reseal the letter and send it instantly to the 
palace: nor will I betray my King by giving 
a single glance at the contents. I am most 
displeased with you, my daughter." 

" You will think differently of me when you 
have read the letter," sneered Peronella, rising 
and departing abruptly down the aisle with a 
confident and cynical laugh a laugh sad 



PERONELLA AND THE PRIEST 247 

years older than her laughter of a week 
ago. 

The old priest looked after her with melan- 
choly eyes, then let his glance fall on the 
letter. He then read it. 

Father Algio was a strictly virtuous and 
honourable old man. He must, therefore, have 
had good reason for acting in this strictly 
dishonourable fashion, doing practically there- 
by what he had reprimanded Peronella for 
doing, exactly what he had given his word 
not to do, and exactly what Peronella had 
prophesied he would do. Was it that something 
the girl said had struck him, and he believed 
in her more than he pretended to do ? Was it 
that he had a spiritual intuition? I fear no. 
The envelope being open, and he equipped 
with a slight knowledge of the English tongue, 
he could not resist the temptation. Was he a 
fraud ? No more than St Peter or King David. 
He was just that very common phenomenon 
which novelists refuse to admit a good man 
doing a bad action, with no extenuating cir- 
cumstances. 

The letter ran in the original thus (which 
was not quite as Father Algio closeted in his 
library with a very old English dictionary 
rendered it into Alsandrian, but no matter) : 

MY DEAR SON 

" Mr Gaflfekin did give me your address 



248 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

which you never thought to send to me or 
write a line and I think you might have more 
affection for your old father with one foot in 
his grave than to leave him and go to foreign 
parts without a word not to mention robbing 
me of all my money which I will forgive if you 
will give back the money at once as I am very 
poor and the shop going badly, though it was a 
great sin and shame to rob your father and if 
you come back I will see you, your loving 

"FATHEB.' 1 

Having made out the rough sense of this 
the old priest tumbled his head on his beard. 
A quick psychologist, he knew he had before 
him a genuine human document, an able 
logician, he soon deduced the facts of the case 
from the given data. Then he arose, struck 
the table violently, swore that divine guidance 
had prompted him to read the letter (whereby 
he added the sin of hypocrisy to that of curi- 
osity and misnamed the latter) Not only was 
the King an impostor, it seemed, but a vulgar 
thief as well. He sat in his armchair for some 
time, pondering on what plan he should pursue. 
At last he left the monastery and, taking the 
letter and his translation with him, he com- 
municated them in a secret interview to Count 
Vorza that very night. 

And this explains how it was that Count 
Vorza spent yet a second night pacing up and 
down his gorgeous courtyard. 



249 



CHAPTER XVI 

THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY: AN EPI- 
SODE IN THE STYLE OF THE WORST 
WRITERS 

Down in a deep dark hole the society plotted a horror. 

IT was some three weeks after the date of the 
last chapter that Count Vorza left the palace 
without giving the customary notification to 
his august master (who was taking his august 
siesta), at two o'clock in the afternoon. 
He passed quickly along, avoiding observa- 
tion and courting the most devious by-ways, 
till he came at last to an obscure and squalid 
doorway at the end of a filthy alley. 

|" Who is there ? " inquired a girl's treble. 

" Regnestro." 

" Invent ' 

He followed into a bare and horrible cellar, 
damper than a subaqueous vault. This was 
the Temple of Conspiracy, or shall we say 
Counter-Conspiracy ? correctly chosen, accord- 
ing to all traditions, an utterly unnecessary, 
even dangerous, choice, for the house of 
Peronella would have been a far safer resort 
than this most suspect vault. But no Alsan- 



250 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

drian conspirator could have enjoyed himself 
or felt at ease in less mysterious, less uncom- 
fortable surroundings. Truly the scene was 
picturesque enough to satisfy the most thea- 
trical appetite: and the motives of the 
conspirators themselves in plotting against 
the impostor were various enough to give 
psychological interest to the melodrama. 
Dark girder beams projected low, so that the 
tallest had to stoop: and illumination was 
produced day and night from a sickly and evil- 
smelling lamp. Nor were the individuals here 
assembled less in keeping with the true spirit 
of second-rate tragedy that pervades the novels 
of the good old school of Harrison Ainsworth. 
Here was Cesano, his arms folded, his back 
to the wall, confident in his power of fascina- 
tion, aglow with a foretaste of revenge. 
Peronella had avowed herself sick enough of her 
English Grocer-King, when Cesano, bursting 
with Father Algio's tremulous confidences, 
flung himself at her feet. But there was a fine, 
large step between hating Norman and loving 
Cesano: and the girl had by now regained 
enough spirits to teaze quite heartlessly her 
sombre suitor. She also laughed a little at the 
conspiracy, but enjoyed being important. She 
tried at first to give herself the black air of a 
desolate Ariadne: but soon discarded it in the 
delights of plotting. She had grown up very 
swiftly her beauty was a flourish of trumpets 



THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY 251 

but how the charm had fled! She was en- 
trusted with the task of admitting the con- 
spirators into the cellar upon the pronounce- 
ment of the password. She had taken to 
practising with a very expensive revolver 
which she had made Cesano give her, and also 
to smoking cigarettes, to the distress of Father 
Algio, who was seated beside her on a packing 
case. Cesano, whose presence we have re- 
marked, had chosen the darkest corner of the 
cellar to glower in. Other conspirators prowled 
round. The lamp was giving out more smoke 
than ever and the room was stifling. No one 
could have kept quite sane in such an atmos- 
phere for half-an-hour. 

The venerable form of Vorza was greeted 
with respect and enthusiasm. 

" Has anything happened, Duke Vorza ? " 
inquired Peronella, whose modesty was de- 
creasing, before anyone else could get in a word. 

" Nothing," said Vorza. " The notice will 
be round the town in an hour's time: Cuvas 
has worked well: the whole town will be in the 
castle square and the usurper will meet his 
doom." 

" What doom ? " inquired Peronella, meekly. 

" Oh, I doubt if we shall have to take formal 
proceedings against him. The mob will tear 
him to pieces, I imagine. Lynch law those 
damned republics have taught us something, 
after all. Ah ! is that Cuvas ? " 



252 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

Peronella opened the door and Cuvas, the 
weary-looking editor of the Alsandrian Gazette, 
stepped into the room, a stick of a man. 

" You have managed splendidly," said 
Vorza to him. 

" I am very tired. You do speak loudly, by 
the way. I could hear you right outside." 

' What, talking about the probable end of 
our mock King? ' : 

" Yes, and I did not like your talk entirely. 
Couldn't you ensure his safety? It would be 
rather a stroke. You see, very luckily the 
usurper made no attempt against King Andrea 
but simply put him into an asylum, as we 
have discovered. Wouldn't it look well in the 
eyes of Europe if we treated the usurper with 
the same leniency? Lynching doesn't look 
well, you know: it doesn't look well." 

Cuvas was a man of peace, and not 
quite such a fool as the others, as will be 
seen. 

" Why, what an absurd idea ! " exclaimed 
the Duke. " You are a queer man, Cuvas, or I 
would have to call you a coward." 

" It would give Alsander such a bad name 
in the world, brutally to destroy a man who, 
after all, has done little harm and some good, 
and we must remember we belong to a civi- 
lized State and are now engaged in making 
history. That is the way things are worked 
nowadays, you know. Look at Portugal, and 



THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY 253 

Turkey and China. I repeat, the grocer has set 
a good example." 

" You dare praise him for not having killed 
your lawful King ! " cried Father Algio. 

u You dare compare the foul deposition 
of a legitimate monarch to the upsetting of a 
alow-born, vile, foreign impostor !" cried Vorza. 

" Of course not," said Cuvas. " But I depre- 
cate excitement. I deprecate bloodshed. It's 
the style in which you write your article, not 
what you say in it, that draws the populace. 
It's the way you conduct your revolution, not 
the justice of your cause, that appeals to the 
diplomats. You must remember that to some 
people there would be a good deal to be said 
for the impostor." 

" Good things to be said of a grocer ! " 
exclaimed Cesano. 

" A Persian cobbler founded Persia's best 
dynasty," said Cuvas. " And a grocer is not 
worse than a cobbler. And in England, all 
things are different: I have heard that in that 
country grocers may be the friends of Kings 
and have been ennobled." 

" Those English ! " groaned Vorza, with 
contempt. " We are Alsandrians, not Per- 
sians, or English, and God be praised! But 
why to-day of all days do you trouble us with 
literary dissertations, Cuvas? What has this 
grocer done that you should defend him 
before he dies ? " 



254 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" Well, he has worked already, and worked 
hard, in the interests of the country. He has 
begun to dredge the river and pave the streets, 
and light the town. He is already planning a 
new railway." 

"He?" said Vorza. " Do you think he 
does anything ? He spends half his time shut 
up with that scoundrelly Jew doctor, whom 
he would have made Prime Minister if I had 
let him. 

Cuvas thought to himself that Vorza had had 
many years of power, and yet that more had 
been done for the country in the last three 
weeks than during all the years of his regency. 
However, he had no idea of angering the 
Count, and held his peace. 

" Come, Cuvas," said Father Algio. " Re- 
member what work we have in hand. We have 
the honour of our country to avenge. We have 
the Right to fight for. Nothing but death 
awaits impiety like this. I knew the young 
man. I could even have loved him once. He 
may be lowly born, but he looks and acts 
like a King. I admit it. Truly he has played a 
fine game with this country with the fiend's 
aid. But were he my own brother he could not 
be spared now. He has mocked at religion, 
fooled the Church, driven out the anointed 
Kong, blasphemed the holy oil. His sacrilege 
is heavy on him, and on this land, and only 
blood can wipe out our infamy. I am an old 



THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY 255 

man, a feeble man, yet if he were now to 
come into this room I would tear him with my 
own hands, and the Queen of the Skies would 
give me strength to do it. Do not waver, do not 
flinch, for you are about a high and holy 
business." 

"I wish they would come!" interrupted 
Peronella, with some impatience, quite irre- 
sponsive to this outburst of sacerdotal fer- 
vour. 

" While we are waiting for the true ruler of 
this land let us betake ourselves to prayer," 
continued the priest, not heeding her. 

" I hear them ! " exclaimed the girl, starting 
up and leaping to the entrance. There was a 
sound of a carriage stopping outside and 
much commotion at the door. 

4 We have him ! " came a reassuring voice, 
and three guardsmen entered, weary, per- 
spiring, bedraggled and unkempt, bearing 
with them on a Utter none other than the real 
King Andrea." 

" We had to fight our way through the 
asylum," said the excited guards, in answer 
to a wind of questions. " There was no other 
way to get at him. The patients have all 
escaped and are gibbering in the open fields. 
Some must have perished: we have had a 
dreadful time." 

They continued vivifying their experiences. 
Father Algio paid them no attention, but went 






256 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

to the bier and kissed the hand of Andrea, who 
heard not, felt not, cared not, for he was very 
sound asleep. 

" Where is Makzelo ? " asked Cuvas of the 
guardsmen, cutting short the tale of their 
heroism. 

The guards who had been ordered by Sf orelli 
to catch and imprison Makzelo had never been 
able to carry out their orders, and that sub- 
terranean person had sold Vorza some very 
decent information at a very decent price. 

" 111, couldn't come," briefly replied the 
man to whom the question was put: and the 
others smiled. 

" He is not a desperately brave man," said 
Vorza "But we owe much to his connivance. 
Ah ! his Majesty is opening his eyes ! " 

And Vorza, who was in general a fairly 
courageous person, but had not lost that 
uncanny fear of lunatics to which was due the 
possibility of the amazing substitution, edged 
away rapidly. 

Royalty opened its eyes, blinked, shut them 
again, then opened them, stared at Peronella, 
sat up on his litter, and in a stridently 
audible voice declared to the assembled 
company : 

' I want her: she must be my Queen ! " 

His eyes glowed with anticipation. All kept 
silent, half wondering, half horrified, half 
amused. 



THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY 257 

" Come here," continued Andrea, " do com 
here ! " 

" The devil take you ! " muttered the girl, re- 
treating to the end of the room. 

" Do not speak like that to the King," said 
the priest. 

" Come here. I command you. This time I 
must be obeyed," pursued the old maniac, and 
a dread sight he was with his stubbly beard 
and unholy light in his eyes. " They are 
always taking me away from you! I have 
waited such a long time I want to kiss you ! 
Will no one bring her here ? This world is all 
full of traitors and liars." 

" Go to him," said Vorza to Peronella. 
" Cesano, persuade her ! " 

Peronella's face flushed hot with disgust. 
The King rose right up and tottered towards 
her. She instantly put her hand to her girdle 
and levelled her pistol at him. 

" Put him back! " she said, with a quiet- 
ness almost hysterical. 

They had to obey her, well knowing her 
determined spirit; and fearing the King would 
become violent the guards strapped him down 
upon his litter, but fortunately the jolting of 
the carriage had tired him thoroughly and he 
slept once more. 

" It seems almost a pity," said Cuvas, 
softly, " to dethrone so active and enter- 
prising an usurper merely to put that driv 
that unfortunate King in his place. * ' s 



258 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

He spoke half to himself, but the others 
heard him. They all began to talk at once with 
the angry remonstrance of men who feel that 
they may be in the wrong. 

" What is progress ? " said Vorza. " We 
have been happy for a thousand years and will 
be for another thousand if we are left alone." 

" Nothing can come of lies but failure," said 
Father Algio. 

" We are in it to the death now," said 
Cesano. 

" Oh ! that is true : so am I. And we have not 
the slightest prospect of failure. I only said 
it had a regrettable aspect," said the editor. 
" And I wondered if any of the people might 
think so, too, and not be over-anxious to join us 
when the moment comes ! v 

" Oh, Cuvas ! " said Vorza, in what he took 
for a light, bantering tone. " You always were 
a damned old Liberal at heart. But the people 
of Alsander are staunch and true, and love 
the old principles, the beauty of their religion, 
the glories of their city. They do not want 
their churches desecrated by an unbeliever, 
their city made boisterous by ugly trains, their 
pure torrents debased to turn buzzing ma- 
chines, their river bed all churned up into mud 
by dredgers, their virgin mountains defiled by 
smoke and steam." 

" But they have shown no discontent," 
objected the editor, not daring to taunt Vorza 



THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY 259 

for declaring his hatred of the reforms of 
which he had a few minutes ago delicately 
suggested himself as the real author. 

" You spend all your day on a stool, Cuvas. 
What do you know about the hearts of our 
people? You have no time to do anything 
but transcribe telegrams. The people do not 
mind, because they are so pleased to have their 
King returned to sanity. What did I hear an 
old man say but a few hours ago ? He said that 
no one could become sane straight at once, 
after all those years ; that one might forgive all 
this reforming nonsense at first, and that he 
wished anyone might have cured the Sovereign 
but that hellish Jew of a doctor ! v 

" Curses on him ! " said Father Algio. 

" Are you content now, Count Cuvas ? v 
said Vorza. 

The title was only in part in jest: ennoble- 
ment was the understood reward of complicity. 

" You are right: I am well contented," said 
Cuvas. " I have, of course, some ideas which I 
do not share with you, but in this business 
command me. I have joined your conspiracy 
because I cannot stand immorality and im- 
posture," he added, with dignity. " Still, I can 
but think it only right to remark once in 
public now that it cannot affect our action 
what I have so often remarked to you in 
private that it would have been no imposture 
but sound policy to ask old Count Arnolfo 

82 



260 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

whether the rightful heir to the throne, the 
Princess lanthe, were not fit to conduct a 
regency." 

Considerable stir was caused by these words 
of Cuvas, which reflected thoughts which 
many a conspirator had been waiting for 
some one else to utter. 

" And I have answered you as many times," 
cried Vorza, turning on him in a veritable 
fury, " that I have clear evidence that Count 
Arnolfo's own son was implicated in this 
dastardly plot. A fine person to ask for in- 
formation or advice, your Arnolf o ! Let us 
first of all get Andrea safely restored, and then 
we can talk about a Regency ! " 

" Well, well," said Cuvas, " you are our 
leader ! " He said it in a tone of resignation 
which was entirely false, for Cuvas was by no 
means the simple-souled Conservative-Liberal 
he seemed. His little speeches, as well as his 
actions, were a cunning preparation for all 
eventualities. Two days ago he had sent a 
trusty messenger to Count Arnolfo to inform 
him truly not only that the King of Alsander 
had proved a grocer, but also that the said 
grocer was in imminent peril of his life and 
throne. 

" Is it nearly time ? " called one of the 
guards. " I hear a noise outside." 

Vorza, the only man of the party who pos- 
sessed a watch (for in Alsander you go by the 



THE COUNTER CONSPIRACY 261 

cathedral bells), looked at it, and cried, " So it 
is ! " The little company hesitated and each of 
them turned cold for a moment with the terror of 
excitement. Outside there was a clattering and 
shouting in the streets, the curious persistent 
sound of people running all in the same direc- 
tion. 

"Come!" said Vorza. "Where is the 
wine ? " 

The wine, or rather spirit, was produced 
from a bottle in the corner, and poured out 
into a great bowl, from which each drank in 
turn, pledging the sleeper in their midst. 
Then with a shout of " The King ! The King ! " 
and with revolvers pointing carelessly aloft and 
an Alsandrian banner borne by Peronella in 
the van, the little party streamed out into 
the alley, and hardly were they in the street 
when their shout seemed to re-echo all round 
them and a tremendous cry rose up, thunder- 
ous, to heaven, " The King ! The King ! " 



262 

CHAPTER XVII 
BATTLE 

When you paint a battle-scene let every inch of the 
foreground be dabbled with blood. 

Leonardo da Vinci. 

ON this very day the King was inspecting the 
throne-room in the company of Dr Sforelli, 
who was a person endowed, like most of his 
race, with a sound artistic instinct. They were 
gazing on the broken plaster cupids, the faded 
chinoiseries and singeries, and the immortal 
lion throne of the Kradenda. 

" You must have this renewed," observed 
Sforelli, stroking his swarthy beard. " It will 
make a splendid and royal hall." 

" Some day," said the King. " Not while 
there remains a road unpaved or a street 
lamp unlit in the city of Alsander. Not till my 
harbour is deep enough for all the navies of 
the world. And then it shall not be renewed, 
it shall be cleaned of all the plaster and paint, 
and left to stand with the ornament of its 
proportion and no other, save the lion chair of 
the first Kradenda." 

" It rings false, sir. You think you will 
attain the high ideal of artistic restraint by 



BATTLE 263 

taking away all the art like your Galsworthy. 
These little monkeys running up the vine leaves 
are so well done that I doubt if you wouldfind out 
of France a painter fit to repair them. Those 
engaging Chinamen have an idiotic expression 
which fills the heart with delight. If you do not 
want them here, where I admit they are out of 
keeping, you must not destroy them but have 
them transferred to form a lady's bower, for 
which some day there will be room in the 
palace. And when your Majesty has stripped 
the walls of these pretty things it would be, 
not merely inaesthetic, but mean-spirited, 
unroyal, to leave the vast walls white. The 
great Kradenda would not have left them 
white, he who himself, the story tells, planned 
the rose pattern mosaic beneath the cathedral 
dome. If you say these Chinamen, these 
monkeys, are vilely out of place, you must 
find a design that will be in place and keeping." 

" Allegorical figures," said the King, sar- 
donically. " Justice with her eyes bandaged, 
Plenty with a cornucopia, War scowling, 
Peace smiling, Charity giving away a loaf of 
bread, Labour with a very red body and big 
calf muscles smiting at a forge, Commerce 
watching her ships, Wool Industry watching 
her sheep, and similar genial devices, such 
as I believe you see in the offices of banks." 

" Do you really think a conventional sub- 
ject hinders a painter's inspiration? " replied 



264 THE KING OP ALSANDER 

the doctor. " The Italians painted twenty 
thousand Madonnas and more than half are 
worth a glance. And if the figure of Peace was 
tiring in the bank, have you seen the figure of 
Peace in the Town Hall of Siena ? I know of 
a poor painter starving in Paris who would 
wreathe your allegory in blazing sunshine by 
frescoing the walls in little squares; and I 
know of another, who is starving at Munich, 
who, by a cunning exaggeration of hollows and 
curves, would make your figures supernatural 
and sublime as Michael Angelo's apostles." 

" You have made me think, Sforelli," said 
the King, " that there is just a chance that we 
may discover a better method even than that. 
It may be you spoke more truly than you 
knew when you said that King Kradenda 
would not have left these walls bare. Who 
knows if we may not discover under the 
preserving whitewash of inappreciative fools 
marvels like those men say await the con- 
quering Crusader who scratches off the Mos- 
lem paint from St Sophia ? But damn St 
Sophia ! Tell me," continued the King, abruptly 
changing the subject, " what is the earliest 
possible date for the projected visit of the 
Princess lanthe to my court ? v 

" As I have informed your Majesty," the 
doctor courteously replied, " the negotiations 
are not yet concluded. We hope, however, in 
about two months' time. ..." 



BATTLE 265 

"It is intolerable ! " interrupted the King. 
" Three weeks have already passed, and now. 


He stopped short on the entry of a lackey 
who handed him a letter bearing an English 
postmark. 

" That," exclaimed the doctor, " I can 
recognize from afar as the hand of our friend 
the old Poet." 

Norman tore open the letter, and the lackey 
having retired, read aloud as follows: 



" DEAR SIR, 

" I hope I am not taking too strange 
a liberty in writing to you a somewhat personal 
letter, presuming on a single meeting and a 
short acquaintance. My only claim upon your 
attention is that I recommended to you a 
plan of action which you, subsequently to my 
advice but of course independently of it, did 
in the end follow. I would not for a minute 
presume, sir, to imagine that you were in 
any way influenced by the random words of 
one whom you must have taken for a most 
ridiculous old dotard. It is, indeed, in order to 
dispel the bad impression I must have made 
on you by my eccentric dress and appearance 
that I am writing to you now. May I assure 
you that these follies were entirely due to 
some cerebral affection, overpowering indeed, 
but quite temporary, and probably induced 



266 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

by the extreme heat of the sun? You will 
remember it was a very hot summer's day 
when I entered your establishment to pur- 
chase some tobacco. May I even go further, 
and assure you that, apart from these sudden 
outbreaks and disturbances, I have led a most 
regular life, was for several years in a city 
office, and was once mayor of my borough; 
that I am not addicted to any criminal prac- 
tices; and that I am, at home, a thoroughly 
respected and respectful member of civilized 
society ? But, as I say, I was in a state of mind 
totally foreign to my saner and better self 
that afternoon of last summer; and owing, 
I believe, to the cause above suggested, the 
unusual, almost volcanic, heat of the day 
I had been seeing visions and dreaming 
dreams after reading Adlington's Apuleius, 
a book of which I am extremely fond. The 
sight of an Apuleius between the hands 
pardon my bluntness ! of a provision dealer 
in a small and remote village upset my 
nerves, and I talked to you, I fear, with an 
absurd arrogance and an offensive flattery, for 
which I sincerely apologize. 

" I write now, partly, because I am so old 
that I dare not wait and, indeed, I think that 
when you read this letter you may read it as 
the veritable ' Song of a man that was dead ' : 
partly because I feel that a second mental 
storm is arising within my worn and useless 



BATTLE 267 

mind, and that I shall not be responsible for 
what I may shortly do. Finally, permit me 
to express a hope that you are prospering in 
the very high social position which you have 
won a position in which I am sure your 
sturdy common sense will stand you in good 
stead, and that you are keeping in the best 
possible health. 

" With sincere apologies for troubling you, 

I remain, 
" Your devoted and obedient servant, 

" LAURENCE HOPKINSON." 

They had no time to comment on this 
weird letter. As Norman uttered the words 
" Laurence Hopkinson " it seemed to him that 
he had started a spell by the very mention 
of the ungainly name. A hum and murmur 
came through the open windows: there was a 
clatter as if the town was waking from its age- 
long sleep. The inexplicable noise rose louder 
and louder till it could be distinguished as a 
roar of men, and the trampling and shouting 
of a wrathful multitude. 

They listened first in wonder, then in 
alarm, silent. At last Norman cried, " Can 
you hear what they are shouting ? " 

" They are crying ' The King ! The King ! ' 
observed Sforelli. 

ic It is not a demonstration in my honour," 
said Norman, grimly. " Will you come with 
ma and see ? " 



268 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

They crossed the palace courtyard to- 
gether. Norman remarked with pleasure that 
the guard were already at the gates. 

" There is no danger," said Sforelli, calmly. 
" All the guards are true as steel. The castle 
is defended by cannon. The guards know their 
work well, and we can depend on them to 
the last breath." 

' Viva la rego. Viva nia rego. Viva la rego 
vera! " thundered the populace. " Viva . . ." 
but the iron gates clanged to, and the sound 
was cut off sharp and the murmur sounded 
once more dim and far. 

A second after, the old Captain of the Palace 
Guard appeared, a fine white-whiskered old 
gentleman soldier. He deferentially insisted 
on leading them into a room above the gate- 
way, whence the crowd could be viewed 
in all safety. The Captain of the Guard pro- 
vided them with seats and bowed. " I have to 
apologize," he said, " for not having come to 
your side at once, but I thought my first duty 
was to secure the defences. I can assure your 
Majesty that there is no danger: and at a 
word from you we can clear the square." 

" Let us give them a chance first," said the 
King. " I wonder if I could talk to them and 
find out exactly what they want ! " 

" They will believe no voice but that of the 
cannon," said the Captain, gravely, " and 
the sooner that voice talks the better. There 



BATTLE 269 

is unfortunately no doubt as to what they 
want. Look out of this loophole and look at 
that litter in the centre of the square. They 
have got Andrea with them, and they mean to 
reinstate him." 

" Well, if we are found out, we are found 
out," said Norman, with a merry laugh. 

" Men that are fools enough to support a 
cause like theirs," exclaimed Sforelli, " men 
who prefer to be ruled by a legitimate madman 
rather than by a true natural King deserve a 
triple death. Sir, will you not order the Captain 
to fire ? ' ! 

" I am in no hurry to shoot down those poor 
idealists," objected Norman. " For them 
truth is more important than prosperity: and 
there is a great deal to be said for their point 
of view. And you, Captain," he added, turning 
to the old guardsman at his side, " do you not 
sympathize in your heart with those tumul- 
tuous voices on the square ? Are you willing 
to fire on your fellow-citizens for the sake of a 
foreign usurper ? " 

The old Captain drew himself up and saluted. 
" My King," he said, stiffly. " I hold your life 
in trust from Princess lanthe. In fighting for 
you we fight for her and for her we would 
blow the whole rabble of Alsander to the 
moon and ourselves after them. It is she who 
has commanded us to obey you, and obey you 
wo shall, like the boys obeyed the Old Man of 



270 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

the Mountains, even if you order us to fling 
ourselves down man by man from the Western 
Tower. But let me add, Sir, that I and my 
company do not think that the Princess, 
whom God preserve, could have chosen a finer 
ruler for Alsander than the man you have 
shown yourself to be even in these very few 
days, my lord the King." 

" Captain," replied Norman, " I thank you. 
I entrust the defence of the Castle entirely to 
your wisdom. I have only this request to 
make. I beg of you, let the first shots you fire 
from our cannon be blank, and the first loaded 
shells you send pass high above the heads of 
the crowd; and do not bring out the murderous 
quickfirers except at the last necessity. 
Alsandrian blood would weigh heavily upon 
me, Captain, and not less heavily, I think, on 
our Royal Mistress." 

All the while the King was speaking the 
savage roar never ceased echoing up through 
the window " Fling us down the grocer ! a 
rope for all traitors! the river for the 
foreigner ! the stake for the foreigner ! " 

The Captain took ceremonious leave in 
order to attend to his artillery. " I will strictly 
carry our your Majesty's recommendations," 
he promised. " We will see if the Castle cannot 
at least make as much noise as the town." 

Left to themselves, Norman and Sforelli 
observed through an old loophole the tur- 



BATTLE 271 

bulent scene on the square below. The 
hideous mob were swarming before the closed 
gates and inexpugnable walls: some were 
trying to collect wood in order to set fire to the 
Castle, while others were attempting to drag 
into place some prehistoric guns which the 
conspirators had unearthed Heaven knows 
where. Others, again, had diverted their 
attentions to Sforelli's house, which stood in a 
corner of the square, and having smashed the 
windows and burst in the door to a full chorus 
of Jew-baiting insults, were now proceeding, 
in order to assuage their disappointment at 
finding the owner out, to loot each apartment 
very thoroughly, as could be seen by the 
phials of acids, books, bottled anatomical 
specimens and occasional articulated skeletons 
which came flying out of the upper windows. 

' They will be accusing me of ritual murder 
next ! " exclaimed the doctor sorrowfully, as 
his third and best skeleton came crashing down 
on the cobbles. " Only I do wish the Captain 
would hurry up and fire." 

At that moment, with tremendous noise and 
smoke, all the cannons pealed in unison. 

4 Your blank is being as effective as Napo- 
leon's 'whiff of grape! ' " exclaimed Sforelli 
as soon as the smoke began to roll away. 
"Look there!" 

The crowd were radiating away from the 
square like a shower of meteors from their 



272 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

centre, seized by a horrible panic. A second 
harmless broadside of the cannon seemed to 
have cleared the square completely. 

' The square is empty ! " cried the King. 

" Not quite empty," remarked Sforelli. 
" What is that over there to the right ? " 

The King followed the direction of his 
glance and saw a grisly, battered old sedan 
chair standing like a dismal island in one 
corner of the square, beyond the great statue 
of Kradenda, its tinsel trappings glittering 
indecently in the sunlight. As he continued to 
watch it curiously he saw that from the win- 
dow of this shabby litter a white and twitch- 
ing face kept bobbing out, a face that w r ore 
what could be seen even at that distance to be 
an irritating expression of mild surprise and 
general inquiry. 

"It is their King," said Sforelli, in deep 
scorn, looking at the tall and handsome figure 
beside him, as though he were making a 
mental comparison. 

" This is our time for action," said Norman, 
glad enough to find a plan for doing some- 
thing at last. " Our best course will be to go 
out and bring that poor imbecile into the 
castle, now that the square is empty, and hold 
him as a hostage till the leader of this rabble, 
who I suppose is Vorza, comes in to parley. 

And the King, with Sforelli at his heels, 
rushed down the stairs to the lodge of the 



BATTLE 273 

gateway where the arms were kept. Having 
armed himself and his companion with a brace 
of revolvers, he sent to inform the Captain, 
and taking with him Sforelli, who refused to 
leave him, and half-a-dozen men of the Palace 
Guard, they crossed the square in the direction 
of the grotesque old sedan chair. 

The little company arrived there in a second : 
not a soul came to oppose them; not a rifle 
cracked : not a leaf stirred. But when the King 
was already only a pace or two from the sedan 
chair, there sprang out suddenly from behind 
it, like a splendid Amazon, a woman armed. 
Her hair was loose, her beautiful head poised 
proudly, her breast half uncovered, her bare 
right arm swung at her side, and from her 
right hand gleamed the barrel of a revolver. 

Norman sprang back, startled, and hardly 
recognized the wild apparition. 

From within the sedan chair came a dismal 
moan, " My Queen ! my Queen ! they have 
come to take away my Queen ! " and the pale 
head once more came wandering out of the 
curtains. 

"So," said Norman, "that is your new 
lover, Peronella ? " 

The girl shivered with disgust at the accusa- 
tion, but she answered proudly enough: " That 
is the King of Alsander, you lying English 
tradesman, and I am here to guard him. You 
had better have stayed safe in your palace 



274 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

walls. And you had better never have come to 
Alsander first to betray its women and then to 
betray its King. And now we shall see who is 
stronger, you or I ! " 

" You are growing eloquent, Peronella," 
said Norman, coolly, " but I have no time 
to answer your reproaches. I should only like 
to remark that it is usual to leave a man to 
guard legitimate monarchs who are in posi- 
tions of such exceptional difficulty and dan- 
ger." 

' They ran away ! " said Peronella, con- 
temptuously. 

" Well, we have come to take your charge 
into the palace. We will not harm him or 
you. Lift the chair," said the King, command- 
ing his guards and turning to the girl he said, 
c Will you not come, too ? You will be safe 
till this folly is over." 

" Thank you for the invitation," retorted 
the girl. " I am not a Circassian slave ! r 

And raising her revolver quickly she fired 
it full in his face. Had not one of the guards, 
who had been watching her narrowly, knocked 
up her arm and wrested the weapon from her 
this story had ended some pages sooner. 

" Why did you shoot at him ? " said the 
King, looking again out of his window, dimly 
comprehending what had happened. " Leave 
him, my Queen: he is surely my faithful 
knight who delivered me from the dragon." 



BATTLE 275 

But the sound of the shot had its effect. 
The square was full of eyes and ears. Hun- 
dreds saw from their hiding-places how the 
false King with only four men about him, had 
come out intending, as they thought, to kill 
the true King, and they surmised that the 
great heroine, the divine Peronella, for whom 
they were ready to die a thousand deaths, was 
in danger. And they also observed, in quick 
whispers, one to another, that if the English- 
main were in the square the cannon could not 
be fired at them for fear of killing him too. 
Also they were beginning to realize that no 
one had been hurt by the last firing of the said 
cannon, and one voluble fellow swore that to 
his personal knowledge the cannons were only 
what he called salute cannons, and there was 
no ammunition in the Castle. These several 
considerations ran in whispers from mouth to 
mouth and fanned the flickering courage of 
the Legitimists, and, a thousand to eight, they 
rushed back into the square they had so 
speedily deserted ten minutes ago with a 
shout of triumph. Seeing the deadly peril of 
their master and the impossibility of using 
their cannon effectively, the Palace Guards 
instantly made a sortie under the command of 
the old Captain, and in a few seconds a savage 
fight was raging all round the statue of Kra- 
denda. 

Peronella, snatched away from the guards- 

T2 



276 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

man who had disarmed her by the rude hands 
of passionate rescuers, was born aloft, waving in 
her hand, in place of the ravished revolver, a 
frantic, bloody sword wherewith the gallant 
Cesano, with a mighty sweep, had just slashed 
off the arm of one of the guards. The odds for the 
moment were tremendous against the Palace. 
There were only ten men left to guard the 
door, which could not be shut for fear of 
barring the escape of the others; and fifty 
other guards were pushing their way towards 
Norman and his supporters an all but hope- 
less task for even their discipline and superior 
weapons were useless against a mad mob of a 
thousand men. 

But a diversion came from an unexpected 
quarter. The tumult had strangely affected 
Andrea and strange phantoms were dancing 
down the crooked corridors of his mind. For 
him the noise of the sorry tumult became the 
noise of his battle, and the pushing, shuffling 
throng behind him were his trampling war- 
riors serried in their thousands. He remem- 
bered his ancestry and heard the voice of him 
who was called Iron. Brave words from old 
and musty books fanned the sleeping fires 
of his manhood; lovely forms of long dead 
women, memories of tattered tapestries and 
dim old paintings sailed before his dazzled, 
visionary eyes. But clearest and fairest he saw, 
as it were, amongst all those phantoms one 



BATTLE 277 

figure passionately real the figure of Peron- 
ella waving her bloodstained sword. Why had 
they taken her away ? The enemy had taken 
her, and she was calling to him for aid. He 
could not but obey the summons of her dis- 
tressed beauty, perfect knight of chivalry that 
he was. 

" At them, my men ! " he cried. " Save the 
Queen ! Follow me ! " 

And he leapt out of his couch, tugging at 
the sword wherewith the conspirators had 
adorned him, lest he should be too pitiable 
a sight, even for loyalists. It had been fastened 
into its scabbard for security, but wrenching 
scabbard and all from his belt he dealt such a 
shattering blow on the head of the nearest 
bystander that the scabbard flew off along a 
jet of blood, and in an insjbant the King was 
dealing round him madly with his naked 
sword. Three of his loyal subjects became 
martyrs to their cause by mistake before 
anyone could realize danger: others fled before 
him. In another second he would have clasped 
Peronella in his arms, but her attendant 
swains bore her to safety behind the great 
statue of Kradenda, which stood proudly in 
the centre of the square, above all the tur- 
moil. 

The King saw an old helmeted warrior 
thrice the size of life, standing between him 
and his beloved. He knew not it was his 



278 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

ancestor, suspected not that it was stone. 
He dealt the statue a furious blow with his 
sword, and his sword fell shattered at his feet. 
He leapt on to the statue and clutched it 
round the neck. It fell over him. In one mass 
on the ground, all crushed and broken, lay 
together the statue of Kradenda and the body 
of Andrea. 

Thus, in the temporary realization of the 
chivalrous ideal, his shattered sword stained 
with foolish blood, was Andrea the Mad, for 
nine years King of Alsander, killed by the 
statue of his celebrated ancestor. And as to 
what madness is, and whether we are mad and 
they are sane, that is a long discussion, but it 
is certain that it is an ill thing for the sane to 
rule the mad, or the mad the sane. And it is 
known that there was a light of glory and hap- 
piness shining in Andrea's eyes at the mo- 
ment of his death such as none of us will ever 
show when we look into the mouth of the pit: 
and it may be his life was well worth while, 

to attain that moment. 

* * * * 

However, this strange incident and the very 
detonation of the statue's fall, seemed only to 
incite the fury of the mob. With a blind rush 
they surrounded Norman's little company, 
thereby cutting them off hopelessly from the 
thirty or forty Palace Guards who were 
passionately struggling to the rescue. Had the 



BATTLE 279 

crowd been properly armed, Norman and his 
friends would have been annihilated at once: 
but fortunately only a few of the populace had 
revolvers and the rest, equipped only with 
mattocks and stones, took good care to keep 
out of range of the swords of the guardsmen, 
and dreaded still more than those circling 
swords the unpleasantly quick and accurate 
automatic pistols with which the Palace 
fought. Moreover, Norman's band had gained 
great heart from the gallant behaviour of 
the little wizened Cassolis and four other 
members of the Advancement Association 
who, not being known participants of the 
conspiracy, pushed their way through the 
seething masses to the King's side, and on their 
arrival suddenly whipped out their revolvers 
and fired point plank at the assailants.* 

But the respite was a short one; the multi- 
tude seemed to swell above them like a mon- 
strous wave. Stones wrenched from the cobbled 
ground hailed round the devoted band, stray 
bullets pinged and splashed on the pedestal 
of the fallen statue against which, above the 

* I much regret my inability to bring in at this 
juncture our old friend the British Consul at Alsander. 
Unfortunately he was not in town, but had taken ad- 
vantage of a well-earned holiday to go shooting in the 
mountains. Had he been in Alsander there is little doubt 
but that he would have pushed through the crowd in 
his uniform to claim and protect Norman as a British 
subject. 



280 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

very body of Andrea, they had set their 
backs for a last stand. At all events they were, 
in the old phrase, selling their lives dearly. 
Of the bodies that lay around them they con- 
structed a bleeding and quivering rampart, 
on the summit of which one of the guards, 
wounded to death, heroically laid himself to 
die. 

It was now that Vorza, with that popular 
heroine Peronella at his side, rallied his forces 
for a vigorous onset, and the reactionary 
statesman, espying the swarthy head of 
Sforelli towering over the fight, screamed out 
in a passion, " Cut down that cowardly Jew ! " 

" I'll give you cowardly Jew ! " roared 
Sforelli in answer, and rushing out from 
behind that crimson fleshy fortification of 
theirs he flung through the crowd straight at 
their startled leader. All fell back in terror 
from his mad attack. Sforelli reached his goal 
in a flash and seized Vorza lightly as it seemed 
by the shoulders. The next instant all that 
statesmanship went hurtling over the heads of 
the crowd; and the next, that brain, which had 
furnished so much valuable counsel to the 
citizens of Alsander, was spilt over the stony 
floor. Norman, for all his astonishment, 
realized in a flash at the same moment what 
master of the art had taught the frail Princess 
the trick that had once laid him low on the 
floor of the curiosity shop, a woman's victim. 



BATTLE 281 

But the wrestler's skill could no further avail 
Sforelli; he paid for his vengeance with his 
life. He fell, literally bashed to death, and his 
excellent soul, released from the unprepossess- 
ing body, descended to whatever dark abode 
is destined for the disciples of Voltaire, at the 
very moment that Vorza's (for Vorza never 
stirred again) was carried off by angels. 

Death, shame to tell, did not rescue the 
doctor's battered body from the insults of 
the populace, and among that evil populace 
conspicuous was Peronella, delirious at the 
sight of pain and blood, like other fighting 
women of history of whom record tells. 
Cesano saw with horror her dripping arms and 
the vile glitter in her eyes. Good honest fellow 
that he was, beneath all his extravagances, he 
feared for her reason and was ashamed for her 
womanhood. Little did that lover care at that 
moment for foolish Conspiracy, or the leader- 
less crowd that gaped around him: he seized 
Peronella, swung her roughly from the ground 
and bore her out of the fray. 

Short enough was the relief which the 
spectacular death of the opposing leader 
afforded to the Palace, but a relief it was. 
For a full minute's space the shepherdless 
rabble recoiled, and the now decimated party 
of the Palace Guards, fighting their way 
towards the centre of the square, took heart 
of grace. Heavily they laid on around them, 



282 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

with much hacking and hewing at hands and 
heads and frequent hamstringing of their 
terrified adversaries. Blood rained down from 
their swords like heavy snow melting from the 
trees in early spring. But before they had made 
twenty yards of headway the courage and 
fanatic zeal of Father Algio had rendered even 
this great effort vain. Raising a silver cross on 
high he called " Vengeance for the King " 
with such fury that the whole crowd took up 
the shout and a deafening " Vengeance " 
boomed over the square like a blast of the 
North wind. Those who surrounded the fiery- 
eyed old priest made a dash at the ghastly 
barricade and began tearing it down. Then 
indeed Norman, thrice wounded, gasping, 
slipping on blood and tattered flesh, expected 
the sudden darkness ; and in his extremity, as 
though to reply to the crowd's yell for ven- 
geance, he could not but cry aloud the name 
that for him evoked all the joy of living. 
Fiercely enough his followers took up the cry, 
shouting, with uplifted swords, " lanthe and 
for lanthe ! " making the name of their Lady 
ring and ring out again with all the passion 
of men about to die." 

Suddenly, at that very minute, with such 
weird effect that some of the little band 
dreamt they had died already, there pealed 
through the Castle square what seemed the 
enchanted answer of their shouting, not that 



BATTLE 283 

savage cry of vengeance, but a yet stranger, a 
yet wilder tumult, the blowing of a hundred 
horns with rattling hoof-beats to mark the 
measure. And forthwith from the great North 
Road poured into the square at full gallop, 
their horses foaming and steaming, a troop of 
cavalry in the radiant panoply of the Royal 
Alsandrian Frontier Guard. In the hush caused 
by their astounding entry their burly colonel 
put up a megaphone and bawled, " Cease fire 
in the name of the Princess! All fighting to 
cease ! " However, without waiting for this 
command to take effect the troopers laid on 
with their long whips and drove back the 
rabble to one corner of the square, at the same 
time forming guard round Norman and their 
fellow soldiers of the Palace. 

The Englishman and his followers leant back 
half dead against the blood-stained marble, 
stunned by this deliverance, too weak to ask 
one question of their rescuers. And then down 
into the midst of the square towards them, 
escorted by one whom many knew to be the 
old Count Arnolfo, on a great glistening black 
horse, rode the Princess lanthe. 

"And where," she cried, "is the King of 
Alsander ? " and at the very moment of her 
asking her eyes lighted full on Norman. 

She was bronze helmeted, a very Athena, 
and dressed in the gold and green uniform of 
the Alsandrian Riders, but it was lanthe the 



284 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

woman who commanded the square, calling 
for her King. Her face indeed still looked 
boyish enough, with her hair half hidden by 
the flashing helmet; and her young body 
looked so slim in the handsome uniform that 
it might well have been a lad's. The large dark 
eyes, aglow with intelligence, had dominated 
the face of the boy ; but as she caught sight of 
Norman she smiled gently: and it was the 
strange smiling of her perfect mouth that 
revealed lanthe an enchantress among women. 
That smile, which daVinci caught years ago and 
fixed in a picture whose destiny has proved 
as restless as its charm the smile of the boy- 
like Renaissance women of the women who 
knew art and history and secrets beautiful and 
tragic which have perished with their smiles 
such a smile played over the face of lanthe 
as she bent her eyes down to her wounded lover, 
leaning wearily on his dripping sword. And he, 
looking up, saw in amaze the new apparition 
of her splendour that special and rare beauty 
of a woman whose life is ruled by passionate in- 
telligence: and he cried out, " Queen of 
Alsander! " and as she dismounted flung his 
sword on the ground before her. 

Seeing this parley of the Princess and the 
Impostor some of the bewildered crowd 
murmured, and one man shouted, " The King 
of Alsander is lying dead at your feet ! " 

" Ah ! " muttered lanthe, shuddering as she 



BATTLE 285 

looked at the staring head beneath her, " is 
that Andrea ? That my kinsman ? " 

" He fought with the statue till it fell on 
him and slew him," explained Cassolis briefly. 
" Sforelli killed Vorza and himself perished, 
and your Majesty is now by undisputed title 
Queen of Alsander." 

" If Vorza is dead who leads this mob ? '' 
inquired the grey old Count Arnolfo. 

" A fanatic priest," some one replied. 

" Bring him before us," the Count com- 
manded. 

He came before them, cross in hand, a 
black cowled, black frocked, frost bearded old 
monk with mad blue eyes, and before anyone 
had spoken, he flung himself on his knees 
before lanthe. 

" Queen of Alsander," he cried, pointing to 
Norman, " if this man was known to you, was 
crowned with your connivance, has been 
fighting in your name, why did you not tell 
your faithful people of Alsander ? " 

" And why," rejoined the Princess in clear 
tones that could be heard all over the square, 
" when you and your friends discovered that 
the King was not Andrea, did you send no 
word to me, but, without the authority of the 
Royal Family of Alsander, plotted by your- 
selves like anarchists ? " 

" And why," said Norman, " did you, 
again like anarchists, send no summons to 



286 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

the Palace, but, without formally demanding 
my abdication, set your rabble on me and my 
followers like a pack of starving curs ? It had 
been arranged that on an emergency you 
should have been told the truth. But you gave 
us no chance, and the blood of my brave men 
and of those poor fools and of your King 
himself is on the heads of your conspirators." 

" There is but one answer to your question 
and you know it," said old Count Arnolfo, 
" and that is that Vorza your dead leader was 
a traitor, an ambitious traitor, and a vile 
traitor ! r 

But the Princess cut them short. " Set me 
on the pedestal where stood the statue of my 
ancestor," she cried, " and the King beside 
me. Thence I will address Alsander ! " And 
on to the pedestal she sprang with easy grace, 
but the King, for all that an old soldier had 
roughly staunched his wounds, had to be 
lifted, weak and fainting, to her side. 
" Courage, my lover," she whispered, as she 
bent to raise him. " Do I forget that you are 
wounded, that you are weary ? But stand up 
now for the sake of Alsander, and for a moment 
face these simple folk with me." 

Straight and stiff he stood and deadly pale, 
leaning on her arm while she in ringing tones 
spake to her people. 

"I," she said, " since the King Andrea is 
dead, am by divine right and undisputed title 



BATTLE 287 

Queen of Alsander. From you who, without 
deigning to consult me, have fought for the 
divine right of my house, utter obedience and 
submission I expect. I do as I choose, I say 
as I choose, I dispose of Alsander as I choose, 
and I make King thereof the man I choose, 
and that King is at my side. If he is a foreigner 
so was the great Kradenda: if he is of lowly 
birth, so, too, was that founder of all Alsander' s 
fortune, in the place of whose monument, 
destroyed by and destroyer of my unhappy 
kinsmen, we now stand together. May the 
omen which was disastrous for him be pro- 
pitious for us ! Now you may know that this 
very night will be celebrated in the Castle 
privately, out of respect for my dead kinsman, 
my union with the already consecrated King 
whom you have tried so savagely to kill. And 
expect no further excuse or explanation from 
me ; for you have behaved like fools, people 
of Alsander, and had I not been warned just 
in time of what was brewing by the only loyal 
man in your conspiracy, irreparable disaster 
would have befallen the State. And now my 
soldiers will guard and prepare for interment 
with all honour the remains of King Andrea, 
of that good patriot Sforelli, and of those 
brave soldiers who have perished in this 
miserable tumult. Those of you who have your 
own dead on this square may remain to attend 
them unmolested; but the rest of you must 



288 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

disperse at once and quietly to your several 
homes." 

The half understanding populace listened in 
sullen silence to these bitter and uncom- 
promising words. But an old shoemaker who 
stood in the front rank of the crowd, his dim 
eyes enchanted and his aged heart fired by the 
beauty and fearlessness of the young Queen, 
cried out: "Treat us as you will, Queen 
lanthe of Alsander, but do not be angry with 
your people: for we have been mightily de- 
ceived." 

The Princess was moved. " You were led by 
an evil shepherd," she replied, " who forced 
me to deceive you. But love for the people of 
Alsander is branded on my heart and on the 
King's." 

" Then let us cheer," shouted the old shoe- 
maker, shaking his grizzled locks toward the 
crowd, " for the Queen and for the King of 

Alsander ! " 

* * * * * 

We leave them there, the Mistress and/the 
Captain of a little ship of State, and only ask, 
before we turn to the Epilogue in Blaindon 
But what of Peronella ? Did Cesano thrash the 
nonsense out of her in good Alsandrian 
fashion, wed her, and live happily ever after, 
peopling with troops of swarthy children some 
mountain cottage in a foreign land? Or did 
he quail before her flashing eyes, dismissed 



BATTLE 289 

for ever, and is that darker fancy true that it 
is she whom men call the Blood-red Rose 
from the cabins of Moscow to the cabarets of 
Montmartre, she for whom many have died, 
she who they say has ordered the death of 
legions in her fierce hatred of Kings and the 
minions of Kings ? Only this is certain, that 
neither she nor her lover were ever seen again 
in that fantastic town, Alsander. 



290 



CHAPTER XVIII 

THE POET VISITS BLAINDON ONCE 
MORE, AND TAKES JOHN GAFFE- 
KIN TO THE SEASHORE WHERE A 
MIRACLE OCCURS 

. . . les hommes aux yeux verts . . . ceux-l 
qui aiment la mer, la mer immense, tumultueuse 
et verte, 1'eau informe et multiforme. 

Baudelaire. 

Vives autem beautus, vives in mea tutela 
gloriosus, et cum spatium saeculi tui permensus 
ad inferos demearis ibi quoque in ipso sub- 
terraneo semirutundo me ... videbis 
Acherontis tenebris interlucentum, Stygiisque 
penetralibus regnantem. 

I sis to Lucius in the " Golden Ass.'' 

JOHN GAFFEKIN, weary of this world, left his 
invalid mother asleep, in charge of the nurse, 
and walked down into Blaindon after a 
miserable meal. His mother's health was 
worse, his prospects gloomy; his life had 
become very friendless since Norman went 
abroad. From the latter, moreover, he had 
had no news for months. 

The night was clear and pleasant, but to 
a lonely man the far-shining brilliance of the 
Blaindon Arms appeared more pleasant still: 



THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 291 

and so he turned on his heel and swung in 
through the unaccustomed door. 

" Why, bless me, Mr Gaffekin," said Nancy, 
" it's a long time since you've been in." 

" It is, indeed, Nancy. How's life ? " 

" Oh, just as usual, Mr Gaffekin, thank you. 
Have you heard from Mr Price again ? " 

" Not a word," said John. " Not a single 
word since last summer." 

" Now, that's odd, sir," said Peter Smith, 
" very odd." 

" I tell you what," said Thomas Bodkin, 
the sexton, with prodigious wisdom, " he's 
fallen in love." 

" He wasn't much that sort, Mr Bodkin," 
said Nancy, with a little sigh. It pleased her 
to imagine that her heart was broken. 

" Damned silly," said old Canthrop. 
" Damned silly. Never tould his feyther." 

" And the old man so cut up about it," said 
Peter Smith. 

"Yes," said John. "Didn't get back to 
business for nearly a week." 

" Ah, it's curious to think of him so far 
away," said Nancy. " Out there in Aljanda. 
That is, if he wasn't killed in the row." 

" Ah, if ..." said the sexton ominously. 

The Daily Mail had contained one day a 
few months ago a small paragraph which had 
caused quite an excitement in the village of 
Blaindon, reporting " considerable fermenta- 



292 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

tion in the little State of Alsander." But the 
succeeding numbers had no further informa- 
tion on the subject, being well stocked with 
letters answering the grave question " Is the 
stage immoral? " which the great paper had 
proposed to itself with typical earnestness and 
audacity. The inhabitants of Blaindon, how- 
ever, were not deterred by the meagreness of 
the data from an almost daily discussion as to 
whether their fellow townsman had perished. 

" You cheer up, Nancy," said John Oggs, 
who was the sexton's opponent in the con- 
troversy. " Price is all right, and he'll turn up 
again one of these days, all boiled yellow by 
the sun." 

"What a strange thing Life is," said Nancy. 

|" A strange thing indeed," said old Can- 
throp. " A strange thing." 

" The sun makes one red, not yellow," said 
the sexton. " But it's small colour he's showing 
now, poor boy, I can tell you. In them furrin 
parts knives aint reserved for cheese. And he'd 
have written for sure." 

" Ah, sexton," said John to escape the 
perpetual topic, " I can see you're a man of 
ideas." 

" Well, Mr Gaffekin, I may not have been 
to Oxford, as I say, but I does think. As I said 
to Parson once before a burial. ' You and I, 
sir/ I said, ' are thinking men.' It goes with 
the business, "i 



THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 293 

" It must be dreadful work," said John 
Oggs. " Digging holes for dead men. Well, we 
must all go under." 

" Ay, indeed," said old Canthrop. 

" Don't speak from the bottom of your throat 
like that," said Peter Smith. "It gives me the 
horrors, with all this talk about death and all." 

" Death should not give anyone the hor- 
rors," said the sexton, who attended church 
regularly. " It is but the Portal, Of a better 
life beyond." 

" But it's rather nice to have the horrors 
sometimes," came Nancy's voice from behind 
the bar. " I wonder why ! " 

" Not but what," continued the sexton, " it 
is not excusable now for me. For my work is 
very sad and awesome indeed." 

The sexton had never before been so im- 
pressed with the conversational advantage of 
his lugubrious occupation, and he determined 
to make up for lost opportunities. 

" I believe you, sexton," said Peter Smith, 

" Some of them as I've buried was all 
young and blooming, and others were ever so 
old, nearly as old as Canthrop yonder." 

" Don't talk like that," said the patriarch, 
hoarsely. " Ye make me afeard." 

" I wonder what it is to-night," said a 
labourer in the corner who had hitherto drunk 
in silence, " that makes you all talk as if 
you couldn't say what you meant." 



294 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" Perhaps a man is being hanged/' said the 
sexton. 

" Poor fellow ! " said Nancy. 

" I feel queer to-night," drawled old Can- 
throp. " But I don't know why that is. What is 
it makes it so ? '' 

;c The moon, old man, the moon." 

The company started with fear at the 
sound of this strange voice, turned round, and 
with blanched faces beheld the figure of 
an old man framed in the doorway, with the 
silver light creeping along his hoary beard, 
and over his unprecedented clothes. For the 
stranger was clothed in what appeared to be 
a white woollen dressing-gown, with a purple 
border, and he had sandals on his feet. He 
wore no hat, and his snowy hair waved gently 
in the radiance of the gaslight. He walked 
forward amid a dead silence, and laid his hand 
on old Canthrop's shoulder. 

" Yes, old comrade in a life of folly," he 
cried. " The moon is full to-night, and you 
know it is her fault. Hers are the fiery drops 
that make your eyes water and my eyes shine. 
I, to whom she has revealed her secret springs 
of knowledge and beauty, you, who have not 
fifty words to your tongue I, who feel her 
gentle influence pervading forest and mea- 
dow, tower and town, you, who feel only the 
terror of her nocturnal power that brings you 
to your fellows, you, the village dotard, I, the 



THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 295 

king of the world ; we have one mother, old man, 
and that's the Moon! You see and fear the 
great white spaces that flit before your eyes; I 
know and love her cloudy caverns of mystery 
and wonder." 

" Who are you ? " whispered old Canthrop. 
" Go away!" 

" A minute, a minute. I am what you will, 
Death, Destiny, a Poet. Is John Gaffekin 
here ? " 

" Are you . . . " began John. 

" I am the same. Ask nothing more. My dear 
a drink round to all, for our farewell." 

The Poet looked round, smiling at the 
solemn and pale faces, at the trembling hands 
of those that proposed his health. Then, link- 
ing his arm through John's, he took him out 
into the street. 

" Come with me," said the Poet, " we will 
go to old William Price's shop." 

After five minutes' walk in a silence which 
John Gaffekin somehow did not wish to break 
they arrived outside the little square brick 
house which was dark, silent and shuttered 
fast. In front of it the last gas-lamp in Blain- 
don glimmered in the wind-driven moon-rays. 

" Call the old man," ordered the Poet. 

John Gaffekin banged violently at the door 
and shouted: " Mr Price ! Mr Price ! " 

" Eh, what's up the deuce and all ? " came 
a loud but sleepy voice from the first floor. 



296 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

A match was struck, a light glimmered 
through the bars, the shutters creaked open 
and old Mr Price popped his nightcap out of 
the window. 

" News from your son," cried the Poet 
cheerfully. 

" Eh, is that anything to jump a man up 
for in the dead o' night ? " retorted the old 
man, cursing under his breath. " I was feared 
of a smoky black beggaring fire at the least, I 
was. What the devil do I care about the young 
rip ? He owes me a hundred pound, he do, and 
I wrote him, but he never sent back a penny 
nor a post-card." 

" You're a nice, pretty father," exclaimed 
the Poet. " I've got your hundred in my 
pocket." 

" I'll come down to you and Mr Gaffekin," 
said William Price very civilly. 

" No you won't," retorted the Poet, " you 
should have come down before. You'll stay 
right where you are and answer me some 
questions I have in my head to ask you. And 
if you budge from that window you sha'n't 
have a groat nor a tizzy of all your hundred 
pounds." 

" It's cold here," grumbled Mr Price, 
churlishly, flapping his arms across his chest. 
" What d'yer want to know ? " 

" Why, first of all, tell me why you never 
go out of nights ? " cried the Poet. 



THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 297 

" What's that to you ? " bawled back the 
old man. 

" And tell me, tell me, William Price, who 
was the mother of your son ? ' ! the Poet 
shouted. 

" What in Hell or under it is that to you ? " 
came in very full-throated accents from the 
open window. 

" Why is your bedstead all made of wood ? " 
thundered the relentless Poet in stentorian 
tones. 

" Hey, stop that ! " cried the voice from the 
window. 

But the Poet continued his questions un- 
perturbed. 

" Why have you half forgotten your own 
son, William Price ? Why do you sleep all day, 
Father William, and pretend to be more stupid 
than the grave ? Do you think a Poet cannot 
see through the film you cast over your happy 
eyes ? 5! 

" Eh, what are you driving at ? " exclaimed 
Sir Price in a voice no longer angry but rather 
tremulous. 

" Who are your guests to-night, old man, 
who are your guests to-night ? " yelled the 
Poet, positively dancing with malicious satis- 
faction. 

" Why, be you one of them that know ? " 
cried the old man in a new tone of something 
like awe and something like fellowship. 



298 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

" I am one of the chief of those that know," 
replied the Poet; " for me shutters unbar, for 
me the music pipes, and even my companion 
for all he can wrap his soul up in the wisdom 
of Oxford town shall see the fairies haunting. 

' What! " said John. 

But the Poet urbanely continued: " I'm 
forgetting those hundred pounds," and taking 
out a sheaf of banknotes from a vast white 
pocket like a snow-cavern he crumpled them 
into a ball and hurled them at one of the 
barred shutters. 

The shutter opened to let the packet pass. 

" Money, my friend," observed the Poet 
tranquilly, " opens all doors." 

A soft peal of very quiet laughter filled the 
little house and all the other shutters opened 
to a thin music: room after room flashed 
into light as though so many plays were 
starting on so many miniature stages with all 
the shadows flying to the roof : and one by one 
the half naked little women of the wild crept 
out of hiding and began their dance. And 
through it all as though it meant nothing for 
him, though his room was flashing from hue 
to hue like a transformation scene and an 
enchanting person had her arms around his 
neck, old Price bawled down: " Well, what of 
Norman ? " 

" He has become King of that country and 
wedded to its Queen," roared the Poet. 



THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 299 

" I always said he was a sound practical 
fellow without an idea in his head," remarked 
William Price with serene philosophy. 

" Like most of the Half -Race," assented the 
Poet. 

" But we filled his bottle with luck," trilled 
the silvery lady upstairs. 

" And his countenance with beauty," re- 
plied the Poet. " Well, we really must be off 
now. Good-bye to you all, and a pleasant 
evening ! " 

Laughing good-byes rippled back at him 
from all over the house like the jingling of toy 
harness bells. 

" Let us walk down to the sea," said the 
Poet, turning to go. " How far is it to the sea, 
John ? " 

" Ten miles." 

" And by which road ? " 

" Straight on." 

" Ah, yes," said the Poet, setting of? at a 
swinging pace, " it is the road by which first 
I came to Blaindon." 

But before they had gone many yards John 
heard his name called and stood still. Down 
through the moonlight glided as it might be a 
wingless angel and by his side there stood the 
fairy of the upper window. 

" John," she said, " when you see my son 
again give him this kiss." 

And kissing him she floated away. 



300 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

The Poet who had gone ahead, waited for 
John to come up. 

" But I must go back to my mother," the 
young man protested, as though a glimpse of 
the unmagical past had driven a sword 
through his mind. " She is very ill." 

" I fear she will die within the week," 
replied the Poet, " but I inquired at your 
house on the way to the Blaindon Arms and 
learnt that to-night she is happily asleep and 
will not need you. When you are alone in the 
world, John, you must go to Norman to give 
him his mother's kiss and help him through 
days of trouble. It's no easy game even in a 
little country, even with a born Queen, even 
with the Immortals helping the game of 
King. 

He said no more. The two went on together 
on the road leading to the sea, without another 
word, for miles. John dared not speak ; he was 
half delirious with the silence; the dread pre- 
diction of his mother's death, the wild story 
about his friend, rang in his ears; the house 
of the Fairies danced before his eyes; and he 
feared his fateful companion. The wizard 
forms of the hedges threatened John Gaffekin, 
the harvest moon, golden and vast, seemed to 
shine hot upon his hatless brow. He kept com- 
paring the trickling of the roadside brook to 
the trickling of the little thoughts in his head; 
he could not get rid of this grotesque com- 



THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 301 

parison, and grew more afraid. At last the 
poet broke the silence. 

" Are you lonely, John ? " he said. " Or 
have you found women after your desire ? " 

" Women ? " said John. " I never cared for 
any woman but for my mother. I have one 
friend far away of whom you tell me news I 
cannot understand. I have known many 
men at Oxford good athletes or great wits. 
But I shall never make another friend like 
him, I shall certainly seek him out if what you 
predict falls true. I am indeed lonely." 

They were silent again. They had now come 
to brackish marshes, and to a land of dizzy 
vapours. The wind blew harder from the sea, 
singing like a hero, bringing with it a salt and 
pungent odour. The poet linked his arm with 
the young man's as though to protect him 
from the evil spells of night. 

" Take heart, my friend," said he. " You 
have years of glorious life before you, and it is 
a splendid night for visions." 

John suddenly stopped, swung round to face 
the old man, and began speaking hurriedly, 
gasping for breath before each phrase. 

" What has happened ? " he cried. " Why 
am I here ? Who are you ? An hour or two 
ago I was just an unhappy man, rather 
lonely, with a mother lying ill. Now, you tell 
me my mother will die, and you tell me news 
about my friend too wild for a sober man to 



302 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

repeat; you have already shown me that which 
I feared to see, and now, as though it were not 
sufficient, you say the night is propitious 
for visions. I am so distressed in mind that 
I cannot talk properly; the words get inverted, 
the world reels like a decadent's dream, my 
head is turning with it, and I keep on feeling 
a sort of brook trickling. What are you doing 
in that white coat ? Who are you ? Tell me who 
you are." 

John raised his voice to the pitch of anger 
at the end, wroth that this mysterious being 
should cross his path fantasia, non homo." 

" Be calm, my friend: all is well; you are not 
used to the extensions of Reality, that is all. 
I do not want to take advantage of the night. 
Behold we have arrived at the seashore. 
Leave me now, friend of Norman! Go on to 
that distant rock, and watch. You may see 
what is to be seen. But do not profane the 
silence of the moonlight." 

And he waved his hands in front of John's 
bewildered eyes as he chanted low the injunc- 
tion. 

John obeyed him as by constraint, and 
watched from a rock some hundred yards 
away. 

The old man made ablutions in the sea and 
began to intone his prayer. 

" Thou who appearest in the waves of 
water, of wind and of fire, Queen who with 



THE POET VISITS BLAINDON 303 

special majesty dost sway the minds of men, 
the beasts and cattle and all the moving sub- 
stance of the thundering world, appear to 
me, be mine, be myself: show the lucid sign 
upon thy brows: grant me the reward for 
faithful service: let me hear once again from 
those immortal lips thy ancient promise, 
that in the pit of Acheron, yea, even there, 
thou wilt be shining among the thoughtless 
dead. Thou art and art not the great Cy- 
therean, mother of the world, thou art and art 
not Artemis, the virgin of the forests, the 
huntress, thou art and art not Pallas, 
to whom the snake has told his story, thou art 
and art not her to whom sailors pray in the 
still waters of the middle sea: it may be the 
Egyptians knew thee by thy name: it may be 
thou art the mother of Christians in the 
South. Thou art in me but thou art not what 
I am ! I salute thee ! " 

John saw the old man fling off his white 
mantle: an instant after it was in flames: Then 
he thought he saw him rise naked among the 
flames and run toward the sea with a silver 
disc shining on his breast: and he began to 
swim out along the track of the moon. Then 
he saw the great full moon burst into a 
shower of stars and fall into the sea, and a 
white woman rose, huge and glorious, from 
the waves, with a horned helmet on her brow 
and spread over the sky like light till she 



304 THE KING OF ALSANDER 

filled the world. Then the treble octave was 
sounded all through the universe, and he fell 
senseless. 

He awoke hours later, but saw nothing save 
a wet sea rolling in the dawn. 

FINIS. 



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